Michael Kelly outstanding student award – intermediate and foundation level

Tom Sherry – Modern Apprenticeships in Rural Scotland


Nestled in the forests and highlands of Scotland, Forest Holidays Ltd connects visitors with nature. But Tom Sherry, people development manager for two of the company’s Scottish locations, believed just as much effort and investment should be put into employees and their local communities.

This role was the first time in Tom’s career he had handled HR duties for a workforce of more than 70 people, and he soon became aware that a strategic focus would be required to make a real difference.

He entered into a CIPD Level 3 Foundation Certificate in HR Practice in September 2017, and soon found it changed the way he could add value to Forest Holidays through his work.

While the business invests in the local community, Tom found that the people of Callander, a Scottish town near one of its locations, were generally unaware of the company and what it did.

Tom wanted to make the company a partner for positive change with other organisations in the local area. He thought this would have a knock-on effect of making the organisation a place where locals would want to work; and on an operational level, ease the burden and financial cost of recruitment.

This began with a focus on development. Tom noticed that Forest Holidays centred people development on certain team members, but the part-time housekeeping staff were rarely offered such opportunities.

With this in mind, he approached the Callander Youth Project Trust (CYPT), a local organisation that uses recreation and education to improve the lives of young people. It agreed on a trial to provide a Modern Apprenticeship for Scottish Vocational Qualification Level 2 in hospitality services to Forest Holidays’ team members.  

Tom worked with the CYPT assessors to build the course on the modules available and their suitability to the job, while negating any possible impact on Forest Holidays’ operations.

He explained to the housekeeping team how the apprenticeship worked and what it would mean for their career development, and he soon had three volunteers.

The programme launched in September 2017. With the backing of Forest Holidays’ general manager, Tom ensured the students had the business’s full support, with time allocated during the working days for study when needed.

And the impact has been substantial. Apprentices say they feel energised by the course, happier in their work and are looking forward to their futures at Forest Holidays.

However, Tom did not want this success to end with a certificate: he wanted to offer the three apprentices something more concrete professionally.

With the help of CYPT, he is launching another cohort this year, and the three students will be mentors to the new apprentices. When they undertake this role, they will be trained in supervisory duties and be paid at an advanced rate. In time, they will be in a good position to apply for a supervisor or team leader role.

Tom’s project has boosted Forest Holidays’ profile locally, and the partnership with CYPT has the potential to grow in the future. New funding has been secured for the next cohort and even for a new forest ranger apprenticeship.

The future is bright for both Forest Holidays and Tom. He plans to progress with a recruitment plan, and was invited to talk to pupils at a local high school about the opportunities for career development in the local area.


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