Interview with… Damien McKnight

by | Sep 30, 2020 | Alumni, Connecting our communities, Princess Royal Training Awards

‘Michael!  We haven’t had our letter, were we successful?’  Deep intake of breath… this is the call you don’t want to take. ‘We didn’t did we? And I know why – too soon and not enough evidence!’   

And from that very perceptive response by Damien McKnight, Training Apprenticeship & Development Manager at Dovecote Park evolved two future very successful applications in 2018 and 2020 for recognition through the Princess Royal Training Awards – the City & Guilds Foundation’s programme for highlighting and celebrating the impact training has on organisations and their people. 

Dovecote Park focuses particularly on developing female butchers, supporting non-native speakers and investing in all ages in the workplace. This inclusive stance shines through all the L&D programmes offered and the organisation has received a special commendation for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in addition to their Award in 2020. 

Unless you are in the food industry, you may never have heard of Dovecote Park – one of the nation’s foremost providers of exceptional quality meat, and one which invests very successfully in its staff. And we know that because of the evidence they presented for their Awards.

We recently caught up with Damien to find out about his Princess Royal Training Awards journey and what’s next for his multi award winning team.  

Can you tell us why you applied in 2017 and why you didn’t receive the award that year? 

The 2017 application came about because we had begun a new apprenticeship programme for just 5 butchers – and it was far too soon to see the impact it was having.  The Princess Royal Training Awards require solid evidence, which we were lacking at the time. The detailed assessor feedback we were given steered us to success in 2018. 

How did the feedback help you succeed in 2018? 

We had a long hard look at the feedback, and it was obvious that the learning and development team should start gathering data about what we were doing in preparation for our submission. In doing so we discovered that our training truly was impacting on yields and efficiency and now we could prove it!  This was no longer anecdotal, we had the evidence for our awards submission, but we could also put it before our Board. Far from being a nice-to-have tick box exercise, training could now present evidence of its contribution to the bottom line – and a significant one too. 

What made you most nervous – presenting to your board or submitting your application a second time? 

Honestly, I’m not sure! But presenting the relevant data to prove the worth of the training was the goal for both.  We took full advantage of all the support the Princess Royal Training Awards team offered. We attended two workshops and were regularly checking in with the support team to make sure we were on the right track.  We asked lots of questions, and in fact we were encouraged to do so! In August 2018 we did receive the letter, and it said Dovecote Park had been successful in its application for a Princess Royal Training Award.   

What happened next? 

Receiving the Award from The Princess Royal at St James’s Palace is just the start of it, then it went crazy!  The Board recognised what training could really offer for the company. With the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, we had the opportunity to put our training dreams into practice. At the time, lots of organisations were spending their levy on leadership courses, but we decided to focus on upskilling the unqualified production teams and addressing issues around maths and English for our substantial non-native speaking workforce.   

Training without limits!  

Absolutely and the benefits are endless too. Being able to break down nationality silos lead to a more inclusive workforce and enhanced the life skills and opportunities of our colleagues. They were able to become more active members of the local community.   

Do you have any advice for organisations looking to make training inclusive? 

I would encourage any business to take advantage of the levy by investing in apprenticeships and make it a part of the business ethos. Training and Development in employees below management is where I believe you should focus your efforts. After all these are the people key to many quality and financial benefits. It will also boost your shop floor morale and your employees will feel appreciated and respected. 

Dovecote Park apprentice

Can you tell us a bit more about the learning culture change? 

Our workplace culture became significantly better, and for the first time two in three of our colleagues were asking how they could progress and develop new skills.  Unusually for the industry this meant more women becoming butchers.

With our new data gathering obsession, we discovered that when it came to yield, women were doing better than the traditional male butchers.

In fact, our inclusive culture impressed the Princess Royal Training Awards Commissioners and we were commended for our commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, an achievement we’re all proud of.

So where next for training at Dovecote Park?   

The new apprenticeship model serves us well! With End Point Assessment ensuring that all our apprentices achieve the required standard of skill. And the better skilled, the higher the yield. Training really does deliver a better bottom line. And that message resonates with our Board. It gives the L&D team a place at the table built on respect for the evidence we bring and the difference we are making.  

What are the highlights of your experience of the Princess Royal Training Awards? 

The most nerve-wracking day ever! We had to present not to the Board but The Princess Royal herself, when she visited the plant just after lockdown!  But there was no reason to worry… The Princess knew all about our work for both of our awards. It was such an honour to see her spend a considerable amount of time talking to colleagues, touring the plant and of course opening our new Training Academy.   

Four years ago, training was hardly the top priority, today with royal recognition and a royal visit, it’s at the forefront of our business strategy. Not because it brings good PR, but because it delivers what every business needs: skilled staff impacting on the bottom line! 

Recently Dovecote Park committed to Traineeships – and with an innovative and generous programme took on all 24 of the trainees creating a new recruitment pathway into their excellent apprenticeships – but that’s another story and who knows, maybe it’s the basis for another Princess Royal Training Award – once Damien has all the evidence of its impact! 

Find out more about the Princess Royal Training Awards and read more recipients’ stories for L&D inspiration.

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