Insights From Apprentice to Managing Director of an £85 million business
11 April 2017

From Apprentice to Managing Director of an £85 million business

John Baumback

Should your teenager apply for an apprenticeship? Is it the path to a successful career or a dead-end job?

John Baumback runs Seetec, which he joined as a 16-year-old Youth Training Scheme (YTS) trainee, and is a passionate advocate of the vocational route.

John Baumback was 11-years-old when he spent all his savings on buying his first computer. Showing an aptitude for maths at his Essex comprehensive school, he dreamed of becoming a computer programmer.

By 16, and with five ‘O’ Levels to his name, he was disillusioned with school and, with his family struggling to make ends meet, he signed up for the Youth Training Scheme, earning just £26.25 a week. His friends thought he was mad. “YTS was really looked down on,” John recalls, “it was seen as stacking shelves in a supermarket, basically slave labour, and only for those who couldn’t get into university or find a proper job.”

But the traineeship advertised with Seetec, a young company with just six employees based close to his Canvey Island home, offered training in Cobol computer programming for business use.

John jumped at the chance and, nine months after being appointed, he successfully applied for a permanent job as an admin assistant, becoming the company’s seventh employee.

Since then Seetec has expanded throughout the UK and Ireland, employs 1,250 staff and has a turnover of £85 million a year. Its head office is still in Hockley, Essex, where John, now 48, started his traineeship in 1984.

He explained: “After about a year, I became an assistant trainer on the Cobol programming course. I taught my first adult group at the age of 18. It was quite terrifying as I was a massive introvert. But I look back and I’m really proud of that time. I developed a love for the work, and I was interviewing and taking on people like me. Many of them became my friends.”

He trained hundreds of young people and adults. As the company grew, his success continued and soon he was helping to develop the commercial side, supporting customers who bought computers from Seetec.

When the company branched into writing its own software for business clients, John developed a programme for doctors’ surgeries which was soon being sold nationwide. He quickly became Sales and Development Manager.

John’s keen eye for an opportunity helped Seetec to adapt and change direction as different Governments promoted new schemes in the welfare to work arena.

When New Labour introduced its ‘New Deal’ programme to tackle unemployment, Seetec won its largest-ever contract to provide the service in Birmingham. The company’s expansion out of Essex had begun, and it closed its commercial side to concentrate on employment and skills.

Seetec practises what it preaches, and continued to take on significant numbers of apprentices, many of them building their careers within the company. The current Group Infrastructure and Corporate Services Director also joined as a YTS trainee, and one of Seetec’s technical consultants was in the first adult group John taught in 1986. Another former trainee is now one of Seetec’s IT engineers.

John explained: “When you take on an apprentice, you mould them to the culture and ethos of your organisation. If you treat them well and give them opportunities, they will always be loyal. It’s their first engagement with working life, and you can see the advancement they’re getting, and watch them growing in front of your eyes.”

Seetec grew rapidly, tripling its turnover after the Coalition government introduced the Work Programme, and it won three contracts, to provide services in Manchester and Cheshire, East London and the East of England.

John’s rise was equally rapid, to IT Director and then Infrastructure Director. The company’s success in bidding to run rehabilitation services in Kent, Surrey and Sussex meant the opening of a new Justice Division, and John became its Managing Director. “For me, it defined what is important, and made me think about society and the way we treat individuals,” he explained.

“Nobody wants to give anyone a second chance. We work with people whose circumstances are often unimaginable and it’s not for us to judge them. I have a real passion for supporting individuals who often are the hardest to help in society.”

Last year John’s journey through the ranks was complete when he became Seetec Group Managing Director. With the organisation also running the JobPath service helping the long-term unemployed in the Republic of Ireland, he hasn’t had time to stop.

He is committed to making Seetec the highest quality skills provider in the UK, and creating more opportunities for young people. Seetec currently recruits up to 150 apprentices a month across the UK for organisations it works alongside but, with the Government’s introduction of the new Apprenticeship Levy, John’s goal is to grow this to between 500 and 1,000 a month.

He explained: “Young people make such a difference to the outlook of your business – they understand far better how to relate and engage with younger audiences, and they have the enthusiasm and new ideas.

“I wouldn’t be where I am now if I wasn’t given the opportunity and believed in.  There are plenty of young people out there that, given the chance, will be tomorrow’s leaders.”  

His belief in the value of apprenticeships is deeply ingrained. Elder son Jack, 20, has followed the same path and, after an apprenticeship with a major local online games retailer, stayed on in a full-time position.

John says “I do think people are warming to apprenticeships, especially with the introduction of degree apprenticeships, but there is still a stigma. It’s not just about educating employers, it’s about changing parents’ perceptions as well. In this country we look down our noses at vocational skills, we don’t appreciate that translating concepts to tools or products is a real talent.” John says Seetec’s goal is to continually find new ways of providing opportunities for people to develop and use their talents, whatever their circumstances. “I am determined to bring in the best people in the skills industry, to build on our 30 years’ experience. We are making great strides in the digital, management, engineering and justice sectors, and we understand the needs and challenges.  

“We have the expertise available to help businesses to invest in this talent. Some employers view taking on young people as a risk,” John said, “but if you show belief and commitment it isn’t at all – plus, if you don’t like risk, don’t run a business!”

To find out more about Seetec’s apprenticeship opportunities get in touch today