Kate Armstrong launched Blue Shadow Marketing in 2014, initially working from home in Cockermouth.
She’d spent 20 years in business development and administration in motorsport and the arts, but decided to start her own marketing agency following the birth of son Aleck in 2011.
She said: “It was getting difficult to work the hours, with all the travel involved and I wanted a role that allowed me to develop further as a person.
“I set up as a freelance with a zero client base, but I developed a sensible income fairly quickly.”
She was advised by Cumbria Business Growth Hub and took advantage of the Government’s New Enterprise Allowance scheme, delivered locally by Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.
Within a matter of months, it became apparent that she needed to take on an employee. Given money was tight as a start-up, an apprentice was the obvious option.
Sixteen-year-old Nicole Wilson – who joined in August last year – has been a great success.
Kate said: “I recruited Nicole through Lakes College at Lillyhall.
“My account manager there, Lucy Deane, worked to understand my needs and sent through suitable applicants to interview.”
Nicole’s first day coincided with Blue Shadow Marketing’s move to new premises at Lakeland Business Park, Cockermouth.
It is now a full-service marketing agency and Nicole is a permanent employee.
She is there four days a week and spends Fridays at Lakes College. She is working towards a level-3 NVQ in business administration and a Chartered Management Institute diploma in first line management.
Kate is delighted with her progress. She said: “I’ve asked her to stay on after the apprenticeship is finished and I’m delighted that she has agreed.”
Kate also receives a grant towards her apprentice’s wages and costs.
Nicole, meanwhile, has no regrets about her decision to leave school at 16, despite achieving 11 GCSEs at St Joseph’s Catholic High School, in Workington, all at grades A* to B.
She said: “I did consider all my options, including sixth form or studying at Lakes College full time.
“But I knew that a lot of people go through sixth form and end up doing an apprenticeship afterwards anyway.
“And I knew that, with an apprenticeship, you are working, getting experience, getting qualifications and earning all at the same time.”
She loved studying business at school, so business administration was the obvious apprenticeship to choose.
“I know for a fact that I’ve made the right choice doing an apprenticeship.
“It may not be right for everyone, but it’s definitely something to consider. A lot of people I knew at school didn’t do that and went straight to sixth form.”
Likewise, her employer has no hesitation in recommending apprenticeships to other businesses.
Kate said: “I’d say go for it. It’s an economical way to employ somebody and to help them grow as individuals while your business grows too.
“If you employ a young person, they come in with fresh viewpoints that probably haven’t been developed in the corporate world. That’s a valuable asset for a creative marketing agency to have.
“It’s a win-win situation for employee and employer.”
Lucy Deane, account manager at Lakes College, says that more and more bright youngsters like Nicole are opting for apprenticeships.
She said: “With university costing as much as it does, some young people aren’t wanting to commit to higher education.
“Our apprenticeship programmes offer a way to join an employer and work your way up, getting a head start on those who go to university.”
To find out more about apprenticeships, contact Lesley Robinson at Cumbria Chamber on 0845 226 00 40 or email email@example.com