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BigChange has become a Sage Developer Platinum Partner. The Leeds-based provider of mobile and office IT for paperless working becomes one of a very few UK companies to achieve this endorsement and accreditation from Sage.

Sage is the market leader for cloud based accounting software that is generally regarded as the de-facto standard worldwide. In awarding Platinum Partner status, Sage recognises that BigChange offers outstanding levels of training, knowledge and experience.

BigChange has been working closely with Sage for a number of years and this has culminated in the development of the JobWatch Sage 50 integration tool which allows exchanges of financial transactional data between the two systems.

Martin Port CEO and Founder of BigChange, says:

“Achieving Sage Platinum Partner Status represents an important milestone for BigChange and reinforces our position as a provider of business IT, but with a unique offering for businesses that rely on mobile workforces,”

“The integration between Sage and JobWatch is important as it enables organisations to introduce completely seamless, paperless business processes that will significantly reduce administration boosting productivity.”

The integration tool eliminates dual keying to improve invoicing speed and accuracy, reducing debtors and improving cash flow. The Sage-certified tool connects JobWatch and Sage 50 providing complete synchronisation of everything from invoices and credit notes, to nominal code lists, departments to customers and suppliers, account balances and account statuses, quotations and purchase orders.

BigChange is for companies that have a mobile workforce and enables managers and mobile workers to be connected in real-time to the office using their smartphones and tablets. BigChange offers a complete range of back-office software including CRM, job scheduling and invoicing with seamless interfaces to corporate accounting and ERP systems.

JobWatch allows important financial tasks such as raising and authorising purchase orders, quotations and invoices to be managed around the clock from anywhere. The system is already in wide use with businesses running mobile operations such a field services, plant hire and goods transport.

Port says:

“The BigChange Sage integration allows financial control and management to be extended beyond the office, seamlessly connecting those involved at the front end of the business to the back office as part of a fully digital, paper-free and real-time IT solution,”

“That ultimately means improved cash flow and profitability, backed by a complete digital audit trail.”

BigChange Sage duo

The BigChange Collaboration Network attracts many innovative and dynamic young professionals aiming to expand services to their customers.

Michael Cairns of Celsius Plumbers is one of the young) and creative individuals who has partnered with BigChange to simplify and centralise his business operations. We recently sat down with Michael to discuss his journey into the heating and plumbing industry, reflecting on some key advice to young business owners looking to expand their operations.

BigChange: Tell us a little bit about your background, how you got started in the industry and some of your most significant accomplishments?

Michael Cairns: I started my journey in 2003 as an apprentice plumbing and heating engineer. At the time finding an apprenticeship as someone over 16 was very difficult, but without a doubt it has had a major positive impact on my life and my families.

After completing my apprenticeship, I gained industry qualifications and started working for the McSence Group. I spent less than a year as a Heating Engineer for McSence before being made redundant from my position.

Following my time at the McSense Group, I decided to start my own business. That big jump happened at the end of 2007 and has grown into Celsius Plumbers.

BigChange: How did your experience as an apprentice plumbing and heating engineer shape your understanding of the value and importance of vocational apprenticeships in the service sectors?

While some things have change since my time served apprenticeship, many of the features and industry wide problems have remained in the heating and plumbing sectors. One of the biggest issues we are currently facing is a major shortage of qualified plumbing and heating engineers. Without skilled professionals giving over their years of experience, there could be significant concerns about the next generation of skilled labour in the UK.

There currently seems to be many independent trades people, way more than ever before. These small businesses are fantastic and take great pride in their work, but not necessarily interested in taking on apprentices due to time and financial constraints. This trend could prove to be a major issue, as older plumbing and heating engineers retire.

We really champion apprenticeships and have done so for many years. We have been training apprentices here at Celsius since 2007. We have proudly trained 7 apprentices so far, all of whom have gained their full industry qualifications. we currently have an apprentice in his 3rd year and are about to start a new 1st year apprentice, which is really exciting for us. The reason we feel so strongly about taking on apprentices, is because we recognise the value and importance of passing on the knowledge to the next generation. I suppose, I recognise personally how much an apprenticeship shaped my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today without one.

BigChange: How has the BigChange system enabled you to streamline operations?

Michael Cairns: After being frustrated with our previous software provider, we were contracted by BigChange and we immediately saw how the system could help our business. The BigChange system has allowed us to do everything we couldn’t do in the past. We used to face various challenges at every step, but with BigChange we have been able to significantly optimise and automate our operations.

With BigChange we have transformed the way we do business. The workflows, Alerts and system process automation have added so much value. When we are faced with an operational challenge, we look to the system to find a solution. The system breeds consistency which is fundamental in any business.

We run on the BigChange flag system, which has built major staff member accountability. It offers our staff a full understanding of what their responsibilities are. Each flag has its own procedure, which answers the fundamental ‘WHY’ question, especially amongst our millennium team members. This has also simplified how our line managers measure performance. As the saying goes, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

BigChange: How has your time working at Celsius shaped your vision to be more globally aware and receptive to diverse customer needs?

Michael Cairns: We currently operate in England and Scotland and through the BigChange collaboration network, we are looking to expand nationwide, while also resolving workforce turnover. Having to delegate responsibility and having the systems to simplify how we do business, has enabled us to think about developing staff to better fulfil their roles. By having clear systems and processes our staff can operate more independently and work to the best of their abilities.

BigChange: What advice can you give over to small and medium sized businesses trying to scale up operations?

Michael Cairns: Surround yourself with a good team and Learn from making mistakes. You must be aware of the trends that are driving the market, it can really impact your overall success.

Your team is your biggest asset, having a company of engaged team members is challenging to achieve, it takes years to properly understand what makes people come to work. When your team know what is expected and have a clear vision of where the company wants to be, the business owners job becomes a whole lot easier. Set goals and reward success when you achieve your goals. How can any business properly grow, unless the team have clarity around the fundamentals? By doing this, we have built a team that are engaged, loyal and dedicated to helping our business grow.

Lastly read books, like the E- Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber. This book changed my whole thought process around business.

BigChange: What major trends are most likely to make the most impact in the next 5-10 years, in your view?

Michael Cairns: Customers ability to obtain information quicker, as people’s lives become busier.

Additionally, of all the breakthroughs impacting the industry, Uber-style driver tracking features have made the most significant effect on improved customer satisfaction, driving increased transparency. With this and other methods to solidify communication, we’ve increased the tools and information our team can use to solve customer issues the first time.

Through massive and industry wide innovation and ease of access via the web, people will no longer be waiting for a price offered by a contractor. The customer journey will start earlier and the customer will want instant price quotes (much like how amazon operates). The customer is very educated, more than ever and you can’t cheat them. Customers want a polished website which is geared towards instant payment and connects directly with engineers. That said, with all the technical innovation, our customers still want a personal service.

Quality of service and accessibility to technology will shape the growth of businesses in the plumbing and electrical sectors. In the end people want a personal connection based on good service and quality customer service. We don’t make things complicated; we try to help them resolve their issues. We don’t over promise and under deliver.

We’ve taken a lot of inspiration with how BigChange does business, we see CEO Martin Port as an innovator and a mentor who is always happy to give advice. BigChange have helped us to better engage our staff. We feel the simple things are important. It’s not just technology or smoke and mirrors that drive business, its investing in your staff and building quality customer service.

New opportunities to gain work experience and college credit. The traditional path of vocational apprentices has involved a combination of on the job, and academic training with the eventual end goal of creating honed and qualified tradesmen.

Recent shifts in UK policy on vocational apprenticeships have created new hybrid programs which offer traditional vocational training with the additional opportunity to achieve a full Bachelors or Master’s degree upon the completion of the apprenticeship.

The new programs have been deemed ‘Degree apprenticeships’ and formed through partnerships between employers and universities or colleges. The Degree Apprenticeship programme was launched by HRM government in 2015, and lasts between 1-6 years.

Unlike traditional courses in college or university, participants in Degree Apprenticeships allows for greater flexible study method suits to accommodate their employer’s needs – whether that’s distance learning, blended learning or block mode learning.

The qualification for degree apprentices are similar to the higher apprenticeship, where apprentices are expected to hold full-time employment status rather than student status.

However, while higher apprentices have the option to gain a Bachelors-level qualification, university study is mandatory in degree apprenticeships. As well as holding employment status and receiving a wage throughout the course, an apprentice’s tuition fees and training costs are settled between their education institution and employer.”

England has made major strides in its commitment to develop and expand the quality of apprenticeship nationwide. Leading elements which are changing the face of British apprenticeships include; “a new funding arrangement in the form of an employer levy, and major reforms of the apprenticeship system including the development of new apprenticeship standards created in close consultation with employers, and an overall aim of increasing both the quality and quantity of apprenticeships.”

Earning potential of Apprentices in the UK

“In England an apprentice earns between 50% and 60% of the skilled worker wage but this average hides large variations. In 2011 apprentices under 19 earned approximately 32% of the fully qualified rate, while those aged 19-24 earned 49%. In England, according to the law, the minimum wage of apprentices aged under 19, and those aged 19 or over in the first year of their apprenticeships amounts to 47% of the national minimum wage.”

Factors which can trigger a wage increase:

  • Turning 19
  • Completion the first year of an apprenticeship
  • Completion of second year of an apprenticeship
  • Shifts in government regulations

These conditions can trigger a substantial increase in an apprentice’s wage potential, especially if the apprentice is paid the legal minimum. For example, the legal minimum wage of an apprentice who started on a programme at the age of 18 increases in the second year by 60%. As a direct result of the added year on year costs of apprenticeships, many employers limit the length of vocational apprenticeship to between 12-18 months.

Industries most active in supporting apprenticeships in England

BigChange top 5 sectors for apprenticeships graph

Impact of Vocational Apprenticeships on the BigChange Network

Within the BigChange collaborative network there are countless stories of innovative and dynamic individuals who have built upon their vocational apprenticeships to form companies leading the service sectors. Two of our most accomplished customers and members of the collaboration network are Jordan Woods & Michael Cairns.

You’ll have difficulty finding two more dedicated and hard-working young professionals than Jordan & Michael. They truly represent the core values of BigChange, i.e. tirelessly working to help every customer with top notch customer service, quality technical staff and seamless mobile workforce management systems to make a major impact in their collective sectors.

What brought these two young industry leaders to their current positions?

According to Jordan Woods, Founder of Woods Building Maintenance, “I left school at the age of 13 and joined a work-based Learning programme in Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC). After persuading Daniel Robinson, a Director at Industrial & Commercial Heating in Leeds, to let me work for free for a number of years I was finally they given an apprenticeship at 16. Without Daniel giving me that opportunity, I would never have got into the HVAC industry. It just wouldn’t have been a possibility.”

Michael Cairns, Director of Celsius Plumbing reflected frankly on his experiences as a vocational apprentice. “I began my apprenticeship as a plumbing and heating engineer in 2003. At the time, plumbing apprenticeships were dominated by 16-18 year olds but this doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. Do in no small part to the current significant shortage of domestic skilled labour many people are beginning apprenticeships later in life and becoming independent trades people, way more than ever before. This impacts the balance of skilled labour because people are not taking on apprentices’ which could really change the face of the future skilled labour force.”

As a direct result of Michael Cairns experience as a vocational apprentice Celsius Plumbing has championed apprenticeships. “We have been training apprentices here at Celsius since 2007. We have proudly trained 7 apprentices so far, all of whom have gained their full industry qualifications. we currently have an apprentice in his 3rd year and are about to start a new 1st year apprentice, which is really exciting for us. The reason we feel so strongly about taking on apprentices, is because we recognise the value and importance of passing on the knowledge to the next generation. I suppose, I recognise personally how much an apprenticeship shaped my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today without one.”

As a fundamental path to the service sectors, vocational apprenticeships provide hundreds of thousands of people in the UK each year with the technical, on the job and academic training essential for instilling skilled labour in the next generation of service technicians and operators. BigChange strongly believes in the importance of vocational apprenticeships and the skills they transmit to the next generation of service technicians.

As new legislation and government sponsored vocational programmes continue to grow, the opportunities of vocational apprentices to make a meaningful impact in the labour market appear significant.

With the rise of apprenticeships in the UK, BigChange looks forward to ushering in a new generation of service professionals and conveying the value mobile workforce platforms, such as BigChange’s JobWatch, can add in simplifying and centralising operations.

To read more about how the BigChange Mobile Workforce Management system can help your business go paperless click Here.

The Brexit vote divided young and old. People who had already made their money, bought property, and perhaps even retired, were much more likely to vote Leave, while students and those on the first rung of the career ladder wanted to Remain.

When I started reading articles about the backlash – young people saying they wanted to deny older Brits the vote, claiming they were out of touch and selfish, and older people calling Millennials “snowflakes” – it worried me.

We need to bridge the generation gap. I’m in my fifties, and I am in no doubt about the talent and contribution of young people. BigChange could not thrive without them.

My kids are young – they range in age from 18-33 – and they have given me some incredible ideas for the business. When I said I wanted to call my new product “The Marketplace”, my daughter said, “Don’t do it”. She works in digital marketing and she explained that “marketplace” sounds like a place to hawk products or advertise, whereas what I’m building is a place where like-minded entrepreneurs can team up and help one another. She convinced me to call it the BigChange Network instead. She may be young but her advice was sensible and I listened.

When my son was at school, he used to rave about a concept called Golden Time. When kids did great work, their teacher would reward them with an hour of fun activities that they really wanted to do. I was inspired by the idea and have offered Golden Time at my business. My colleagues get their BigChange birthdays off to celebrate the way they want, and we give them extra time off as a reward for great ideas or going the extra mile. I call it Golden Time.

It sounds like a cliché but young people are the future. They are more technologically minded, they have fresh ideas and they are more adaptable. Listening to them makes me more adaptable too. I may be at the Saga stage of life but I don’t want to turn into a dinosaur who can’t change or try new things.

And this is a two-way street. My kids listen to me (at least sometimes) and my colleagues at BigChange listen to my ideas and experience because I respect theirs.

The young and the mature should not be at war. We should be listening to each other and working together to build great businesses – and a world – that we can all enjoy.


Martin Port
Founder & CEO

Customer Experience is infinitely personal and continuously evolves from each service encounter to colour how customers view both the service event and the provider as a whole.

In part II of ‘What Drives Customer Experience in the Service Sectors’ we will take a look at how Customer Expectations, Technology & Personalisation influence Customer Experience as well as how mobile workforce management software, such as JobWatch from BigChange can revolutionise the Customer Experience.

Customer’s Expectations:

“The key reason why the customer experience is and will never be ‘in control’ is because customers are individuals and the core element in the customer experience equation is highly emotional, personal, contextual and diverse.”

The customer often sets the tone for the entire service relationship however, with mobile access to detailed transaction history and an integrated CRM system, such as JobWatch from BigChange, expectations can be reasonably met while providing a comprehensive service picture to your entire staff.

Part and parcel to understanding and exceeding customer expectations is forming a strong personal rapport with the customer. In addition to facilitating a better service experience, effective communication with clients can act as a second marketing department creating brand ambassadors while providing vital feedback on ways to improve the service interaction from the people who matter most.

To build a holistic, customer-centric approach each personalised interaction must be valued, recorded and used to improve future practices.

Technology & Skill Set of Technician:

In a time of dramatic technological advancements “Human interaction [still] matters now — and 82% of U.S. and 74% of non-U.S. consumers want more of it in the future. Regardless, the technology supporting human interaction must be seamless and unobtrusive across platforms.”

Customers expect real-time messaging and self-service tools to advance their service experience. The digitally savvy customer today demands a constant flow of up to date information narrating their broader service experience, from initial consultation to post service follow up and billing.

Concurrently, customers want these technological breakthroughs to still have a human touch, and (if needed) easy access to a person to help navigate supposedly intuitive systems.

Relying upon a range of digital touchpoints include websites, app interaction and use of online CRM systems; such as JobWatch by BigChange, technicians can better deliver specialised services on the click of a button.

As PwC astutely points out “The challenge [is]: how to use new technology with purpose to make the experience feel more human—without creating frustrations for customers and while empowering employees.” If technicians and service staff cannot apply the new methods to resolve the broader issues- regardless of the technology- customers will not be happy.

In a time where the service experience is strongly dictated by technical capability, the results are often projected for the world to see. Good experiences are shared on social media — and as are less than ideal ones, while surely horrible service experiences go viral — and can easily damage or destroy a company’s reputation globally.

Personalisation:

The service experience is not limited to the physical service call or maintenance event. Increasingly customers are demanding optimized post-purchase experiences which include personalised service and support. As a result, “79% of customers are willing to share relevant information about themselves in exchange for contextualized interactions in which they’re immediately known and understood.”

Customers want to feel heard and catered to. They are willing to expand engagement and the information they share if it can significantly improve their broader customer experience.

“59% of customers say tailored engagement based on past interactions is very important to winning their business.”

In the past customers wanted a prompt response to their questions or complaints. Now customers expect every element of their service experience to be personalized. “61% of the people surveyed [by Forbes] felt they were treated like case numbers rather than people. That must stop. The survey found that 59% of customers said being treated as an individual was more important than how fast the issue was resolved (53%). The numbers are close, but the point is that customers want to be treated like people, not account numbers. And, if you can deliver both speed and personalisation, you have a winning combination.”

Customer Experience, Company Loyalty and Retention:

80% of companies believe they provide a superior proposition with only 8% of customers agreeing.” Bridging the gap between perception and reality, as the stats clearly show, can be difficult. The only way to make real improvements is to ask customers: What went right? What went wrong? Why did you choose our service? Did our services meet your expectations?

At the end of the day, no one is a mind reader and thus we all must lean on the recipient of the service experience to facilitate best practices and improve retention.

The resolution to this may be simpler then you may think. Auto messaging, standardised templates and surveys to gauge customer experience and satisfaction in real time. With fully integrated mobile workforce management software, like JobWatch from BigChange, your business can streamline operations and engage customers holistically.

The customer experience is more often than not a complicated formula which requires the balancing of technical skills and emotional awareness. If blended correctly the customer experience can provide the basis for a symbiotic relationship between the service provider and customer. Bringing these two parties together is the CRM element which can centralise and organise the entire service dynamic.

BigChange Mobile Workforce Management Revolutionising the Customer Experience:

BigChange’s 5-in-1 platform enables businesses of all sizes to better manage many of the most significant factors influencing the customer experience. With BigChange, your back office can easily monitor, schedule & dispatch service requests to optimise your field based teams’ strongest skills and prevent unnecessary travel.

With JobWatch, powered by BigChange, the point of contact staff can access complete customer history and ensure all service requests and customer expectations are met the first time, every time. Utilising BigChange’s innovative mobile workforce system, contractors are able to specialise service, workflow requirements and mandatory safety protocols with ease.

Through the use of an integrated platform, technicians can resolve any service request with the click of a button. Additionally, the use of preventative maintenance workflows directed via the Mobile workforce management system dramatically improves the rate in which service technicians resolve all issues fully, while also alerting the operator to any upcoming scheduled maintenance. By improving transparency and collaboration between all aspects of operations through the implementation of mobile workforce management software, such as BigChange, your business can drastically improve customer experience.

What to do from here?

Improving the overall quality of customer experience for service providers often is the determining factor driving customer relations and long term business performance.

Optimising the broader customer experience goes beyond fulfilling customer requirements to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. The ultimate objective in catering a comprehensive service experience is to maintain and cultivate a long-term customer relationship which continuously creates opportunities for business to profits via sustained service interactions and activities.

Balancing the complex dynamic of customer experience requires constant calibration and dedication to providing the best services, staff and technology all integrated to give real-time data and live quotes with ease.

A recent study of 15,000 consumers surveyed in 12 countries found that “60% of customers would stop doing business with a company due to unfriendly service, 46% said they would cease the business relationship because of employees lack of knowledge and 50% would end the relationship if they don’t trust the company. 32% of customers would walk away from a brand they have a strong affinity towards after just one bad experience.”

With customers increasingly willing to change service providers after the smallest inconvenience it is essential to be receptive to customer needs and ensure all elements of the customer experience are consciously monitored and improved daily.

To read Part I click Here.

Customer experience, simply put, is the most decisive factor driving a business’s success in the service sectors. Through the establishment of a fluid and adaptive customer experience, brand loyalty is created, customers are cultivated and long term relationships are formed.

Customer experience is infinitely personal and continuously evolves from each service encounter to colour how customers view both the service event and the provider as a whole.

In this blog, we will take a deep dive into what elements shape customer experience, from the initial point of contact to final billing. We will define the customer experience and the broad range of factors which, if properly balanced, can improve customer retention and the overall service dynamic across business operations.

Factors defining Customer Experience:

Customer experience is defined as the perception a client has of a business or service as influenced by:

  • An Employee or Point of Contact member of staff
  • Customer Expectations
  • Technology
  • Personalisation

With this ever-growing basket of factors influencing customer experience it can be exhausting to try and find that perfect balance point to satisfy customer needs. With fierce competition and an increasingly demanding customer base, many businesses are often faced with the question of where to focus their time and energy to improve customer retention and brand loyalty?

A recently conducted study of over 6,700 customers found that 80% of people agree that the experience your brand creates is just as important as the product or service you are selling. Long gone are the days when having quality service and a skilled workforce alone were enough to ensure customers use your product or service in the future.

Today’s marketplace is defined by; ease of accessibility and personalisation of services, as well as highly informed customers who demand transparency throughout the entire service experience. Customers expect technicians to be friendly and knowledgeable, well versed in cutting edge technology and quick on their feet to adapt to a request on a moment’s notice.

According to PwC “43% of all consumers would pay more for greater convenience; 42% would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience. And, among U.S. customers, 65% find a positive experience with a service provider to be more influential than great advertising.”

In order to improve customer experience, it is critical to understand the role each component part plays in illustrating the broader relationship between service provider and customer. If correctly understood and integrated into a long term business strategy, these factors can vastly improve customer satisfaction and in turn, facilitate customer retention.

Point of Contact:

The customer experience is heavily influenced by the point of contact. As the person who facilitates the broader service experience, the service technician or staff member must “incorporate all of the aspects of the service firm with which customers may interact, including its personnel, physical facilities, and other tangible elements during a given period of time. It has been suggested that from the customer’s viewpoint, staff members provide the service and staff behaviour therefore, influences customer perceptions of the service.”

Staff competence, helpfulness, and responsiveness are vital factors which guide the evaluation of service. Unfortunately “only 46% of consumers outside the U.S. say the employees they interact with understand their needs.”

An organisation’s employees, or the salespeople representing it in retail channels, are a key channel for delivering superior Customer Experience. It’s no good saying you’re great if your staff don’t act like they believe it. Everyone in an organisation has to be aligned with corporate objectives and on-message. So teaching staff to understand their role within the organisation and how everyone contributes to outsiders’ perception of it is hugely important.”

It is essential that companies hire passionate staff and train them to love the product or service. Ensuring the point of contact is well versed and easy going helps customers have a positive experience and significantly impacts the perception of the brand overall.

In Part II we will discuss the impact of; Customer Expectations, Technology & Personalisation on Customer Experience.

To read more about how BigChange can help improve your Customer Experience click Here.

I have been in business since I was 11 years old. I started out working for my father, an auctioneer, before growing my own bakery business in my twenties.

Now, aged 56, I run technology start-up BigChange. I don’t know many entrepreneurs who have experience across such varied industries, so I thought it would be a good idea to share all the lessons I’ve learned over the years.

If I can help any other business owner avoid mistakes I’ve made, and help them build on strategies that have worked well for me, then it’s been worth all the hard work putting pen to paper – I’m dyslexic, so it’s not easy for me. The following book is a compilation of blogs I posted on LinkedIn over the past couple of years. They range from management advice to updates about my fast-growing firm to my take on topical issues.

If you take one thing away from this, it’s to place the needs of your people and customers above everything else in business. It is also to appreciate your family and understand the power of your network. I hope that you enjoy my posts – and my unusual take on the world. I truly believe that the best way to get ahead in business and in life is to help others. That’s the ethos behind BigChange, which succeeds only by making others successful.

Click here to download my Blog Book


Martin Port
Founder & CEO

The service sectors live and die on the success of vocational apprenticeships and the skills they impart on the growing domestic workforce.

Apprenticeships across the UK aim to train the next generation of skilled technicians, service contractors, and back office staff to meet the evolving needs of a massive range of jobs, many of which you might not think traditionally involve an apprenticeship component. In the 2016-17 academic year alone, 900,000 people received compensation to participate in an apprenticeship in the UK.

Historically, vocational apprenticeships have provided the prime avenue for young and novice individuals to gain the skills and industry-specific experience necessary to work in the service sectors, especially within; Electrical, HVAC, Plumbing and Service Maintenance.

In part I, we will examine the state of vocational apprenticeship in the UK. We’ll look at what is involved in a vocational apprenticeship in the UK, as well as some of the current trends influencing the potential growth of vocational apprenticeships in the coming years.

In part II, we will highlight some of the new higher education opportunities being provided through new and innovated vocational apprenticeship programmes.

What is a vocational apprenticeship?

In the UK, vocational apprenticeships are defined as training programs which include both academic study and hands-on or in-the-field element. Apprentices must complete a minimum of 30 hours’ paid work a week and 5 ½ hours of study towards a vocational qualification, which may vary depending on the specific field.

The general image most people have of vocational apprenticeships are young people (16-18) trying to gain their first skilled labour position, however, over 50% of those starting an apprenticeship in the UK are over 25.

While many technical and intricate mechanical fields, such as electrical repair and installation or plumbing have been heavily represented in UK based vocational apprenticeship programs the opportunities go far and beyond these sectors.

Vocational training is available across a wide range of subjects and industries, from engineering, construction and manufacturing to IT and communications, creative and digital media, health and social care, and more.”

Apprenticeships in the UK

English apprenticeships differ from those of other European countries as they are, on average less than 18 months, compared with 3-4 years typical in other countries.

As a result of the condensed training period, English vocational apprenticeship programs, compared to Austria, Germany and Switzerland, are more likely to be trained at a lower skill level, with 100-200 hours of training, compared to 300-400 of their European counterparts.

To evaluate the range of vocational training, and the skills imparted within the process the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) was established in the UK. The QCF contains vocational or work-related qualifications which are recognised in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

The QCF also defines several levels of vocational training, from “entry level to level eight – but the focus is generally on levels two and three, which are pitched at GCSE A*-C level and A-Level respectively.”

Trends impacting apprenticeships in the UK: More opportunities and greater gender equality

Apprenticeship participation in England has significantly increased in the last two decades. Recent statistics state around 500 000 apprenticeships are started every year in England, with men and women roughly equally represented.

These figures represent dramatic increases from the late 1990’s, when the equivalent figure was less than 100 000 [a five-fold increase]. Most of the growth has been in older apprentices, with stats for those over 25 more than quadrupling from just under 50 000 in 2009/10 to more than 200 000 in 2015/16.”

While traditionally, British based apprenticeships have offered less training compared to their European neighbours, recent years have seen that “starts for higher-level apprenticeships have increased faster than for Level 2 apprenticeships, but Level 2 apprenticeships still represented nearly 60% of the total in 2015/16.”

Gender Equality?

In 2016-17, 54% of total apprenticeship started in England were by women (262,820), compared with 46% by men (228,520). This data is also reflective of broader trends in the past decade, showing the number of women starting apprenticeships in England has been higher than men every year since 2010-11.

While broader trends of vocational apprenticeships in the UK are shifting towards greater gender parity, the balance is still noticeably limited in some areas.

“In 2015-16, more than 72,000 male apprentices started programmes in engineering in England, compared with 6,260 women, according to the DfE. By contrast, more than 100,000, or 40% of all female apprentices, started programmes in the health and social care sector.”

To read more about the impact of vocational apprenticeships click Here.

Flow Free Drainage has deployed the latest mobile worker and cloud technology as part of a paperless system that connects mobile apps to back-office management software. With the JobWatch system from BigChange, Flow Free has achieved 40 percent annual growth with an actual reduction in office administration resources.

With the JobWatch system from BigChange, Flow Free has achieved 40 percent annual growth with an actual reduction in office administration resources.

The 5 in 1 BigChange solution combines customer service (CRM), job scheduling and invoicing software with real-time vehicle tracking and smartphone apps. With a fleet of 18 vehicles and a team of field service engineers covering mainly the South East of England, Flow Free maintain and repair drainage systems.

Flow Free are part of Property Consortium Drainage, a network of drainage specialists undertaking insurance-related work. Operating from new headquarters on the Hertfordshire-Essex border, the company also has national contracts with major retailers and land owners.

Steven Cornelius, Managing Director of Flow Free Drainage, says:

“BigChange provides us with a single system to manage the entire business digitally, from the initial call out to invoicing and management reporting. It really has revolutionised the way we work and had a very significant impact on our efficiency and productivity.”

“We started using JobWatch 18 months ago and last year we grew the business by 40 percent; even though we actually reduced numbers of staff in the office.”

Operating 24/7 year-round, Flow Free work to stringent Service Level Agreements with guaranteed fast response times dealing with burst pipes, blocked drains and leaks causing disruption and damage to premises. Flow Free has expanded into building services in order to undertake remedial and other maintenance work for clients.

Using the BigChange back-office Flow Free log incoming calls on the CRM for optimised scheduling of the most suitable resource by skill, equipment and location. Work is further complicated as different clients have different SLA’s.

Cornelius comments:

“JobWatch handles all this complexity brilliantly as we can easily set up different job sheets with the appropriate service conditions, certifications and other reports.”

JobWatch has also helped speed up quotations and invoicing. As Job Sheets are completed by engineers onsite, the office is immediately notified of any additional service requirements and quotations are raised with 24 hours; less if the material requirements are simple.

Cornelius says:

“Being real-time and paperless, JobWatch has dramatically reduced administrative work. Five or six people used to be tied up managing jobs, generating quotes and invoices manually. Now we can deal with typically 60 jobs a day with just two people involved. That frees up time for customer service and sales work and is central to our plans to grow the business,”

“Things are just better controlled and quicker; one client couldn’t believe we could actually send out an invoice within an hour of the job being completed!”

Flow Free is also using BigChange to improve its environmental and safety credentials. With vans clocking up 40.000 miles year, the BigChange tracking devices are providing valuable data to reduce fuel consumption – and the carbon footprint – through better job planning, route optimisation and better driving.

Cornelius explains:

“One major benefit of BigChange has been the notable improvements in driving,”

“The simple fact that our engineers do so many miles mean that the chances of damage to a vehicle – even if not our fault – is going to be higher. So to reduce risk we monitor driving performance with a reward for the best driver each month. We have seen a 25 per cent improvement in driving and less accidents, leading to lower insurance premiums.”

BigChange flow free drainage on tablet

Target Maintenance has rolled out a new generation mobile workforce system using tablets linked in real time to a central management software as part of a 5 in 1 cloud-based solution from BigChange.

Target Maintenance is a fast-expanding UK company that specialises – through its Target Fire team – in ensuring buildings are fire safe with retrospective building modifications involving fire compartmentation and the assessment and replacement/repairs of fire doors, alarms, smoke vent systems and emergency lighting. The company has recently expanded its operation into new build fire compartmentalisation works and expects rapid growth in this area.

BigChange has provided Target Maintenance with a completely paperless system that integrates the field operations with their central office IT system, which is all part of JobWatch, the cloud-based solution from BigChange. The system handles everything, from call logging to job schedulingjob management and invoicing, with live vehicle tracking to give Target Maintenance complete visibility of all jobs in progress and once completed.
Target Maintenance switched to BigChange from another service management system and a separate tracking system.

Dean Rochester, Managing Director of Target, says:

“We wanted to modernise our IT and invest in a solution for the future – something that could assist in what is proving rapid growth in the business,”

“BigChange was particularly appealing as it is a true end-to-end solution and we knew that would make things much easier; a single system with the seamless flow of data from start to finish, which will also aid our clients.”

Rochester adds:

“The fact that it is cloud based – and therefore accessible anywhere, anytime – was appealing and we like the fact that it is continually evolving. Every new feature is an improvement, adding functionality that helps us save time and reduce costs,”

“This ensures our clients are continually seeing improvement in our service.”

Target Maintenance provide both fast, reactive maintenance services as well as planned longer term contract services. As well as the FIRAS accredited fire safety work, Target provides facilities and maintenance services to the property sector including commercial, retail and leisure, social housing, insurance and lettings. From its headquarters in Bedfordshire and its field based operatives, Target Maintenance cover a wide geographical area from London and the South East, to the Midlands, East Anglia and west as far as Swindon.

Rochester explains:

“Previously we were getting overwhelmed with paper processes as the business grew. Paperwork was simply delaying invoicing for completed works and impacting on our customers and their budgets. We identified it as an area we needed to focus on and have through BigChange improved and reduced our processes. BigChange was the solution,”

“We feel we are quicker and more organised having eliminated much of the paper with digital records and now all the information our clients need is at our fingertips and readily available.”

The system is helping improve customer service as well by improving communication. Customers now get instant auto-alert emails when job requests are received, and work is scheduled. In addition, the electronic job sheets and progress photographs from site allow customers to be kept fully informed on work progress.

Rochester adds:

“Larger projects can take some months and therefore a digital record of progress, completed and to complete tasks ensure a smoother flowing project. From a quote through to invoicing and providing certification, each process and task has been adjusted to allow for automatic updating and reporting. The digital reporting process also ensures better checks are in place. That means there are less queries from our clients and transparency is improved.”

First established in 2005 the company re-formed in 2014 (under the group brand Target Maintenance) and Target Fire set up as a specialised team in 2017. Since 2014 Target has expanded from 30 staff to the current 80 staff and turnover of £3.5million. Target’s 35 field service engineers operate the JobWatch mobile app – which is coupled with BigChange vehicle tracking – to manage their work and report progress accordingly.

Daniel Rochester, Target Fires Operations Director, adds:

“BigChange allows us to capture the data we need and make it available when we need it. The bespoke reporting is very good and we now get daily reports so management and customer services have up to date visibility of all work in progress.”

BigChange Target lady using software on computer

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