Q&A: Lee Lucas, Holts Academy

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The academy’s director on apprentices, diving and doing what he loves.

Lee Lucas is the principle and director of Holts Academy in Hatton Garden, an educational facility that aims to create tomorrow’s stars of the jewellery industry, through training and apprenticeships. This year he has been driving forward its apprenticeship programs but when does take time out he loves nothing more than relaxing with a glass of red wine or going diving. He was named a Business Big Shot in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2012, in association with the Company of Master Jewellers.

Professional Jeweller: This year has been a busy one at Holts Academy. Tell us about the highlights of your year
Lee Lucas: Every year for the past five leading the academy has been rather a roller coaster that has impacted in all sorts of ways on my professional and personal life. Professionally I really do take pride in seeing the academy grow in to the kind of organisation I have envisioned it being. We have doubled in size again over the past year and I consider that one of the highlights of my year. Personally this year I have become a qualified diver, and after being petrified and swallowing much sea water at depth, this, is a real achievement.

PJ: Have you hit any challenges along the way as the academy has developed?
LL: I could fill many pages. Innovation and rapid growth come with many issues, whether it’s resources or whether its barriers to new thinking. I guess a bit of sheer determination plus absolute drive to do more help enormously. That and quite a bit of stubbornness. I think that most barriers have been overcome by being true to what we stand for and working to do what’s in the best interest of the trade and our learners. Being a not for profit social enterprise, we can be drive by the right thing rather than what’s profitable.

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PJ: You’ve been heavily involved in the apprenticeships story this year. Tell us a bit more about your involvement and why is it important for the jewellery industry
LL: For me, it’s all about vocational learning. That is to say learning that’s hands on, relevant for an industry and meaningful for the learner. Whether in jewellery design, retail, engineering or IT. What most people don’t know about me is that aside from pioneering, writing, teaching and developing qualifications and apprenticeships I was once an apprentice myself. I started my career as an IT apprentice, many moons ago mind you. For all the lip service some people give about apprenticeships, for all the political point scoring the apprenticeship subject brings, I have a deep rooted and very genuine passion for apprenticeships because I have lived and breathed them for the past two decades from every angle and I truly believe that today’s apprentice is tomorrow’s economy. Apprenticeships are important both to the world of education and to UK Plc as a whole. The argument over vocational versus academic studies has rumbled on for years and only now are apprenticeships finally being viewed in the right light, as a great way to learn a trade, gain a qualification and help businesses find the right staff. Would you rather have a well qualified or really experienced pilot flying your plane for instance? Apprenticeships offer the best of both in a way that academic courses can’t.

PJ: You have been working hard to develop the course offerings at Holts – how is it evolving?
LL: Almost six years ago when I joined the academy we were a small but significant force of training in the sector. My passion and belief was that the academy could be more and the industry needed more and so I have worked, alongside a wonderful team at the academy to push the limits and boundaries of training for the sector. Only after all this time is the outward recognition of this work happening. The foundations of the academy were laid by the Holts family, in particular Jason Holt, and it’s from this foundation of integrity that I have been able to build, and I have been fortunate enough to have been enabled to have free rein to do so, an exciting, vibrant and multi faced learning organisation. The jewellery industry is a fascinating one and my belief from day one has been that in order to provide meaningful education of any kind for the sector that you need vocational qualifications, recognised, endorsed and understood by the sector.

PJ: How would you describe your approach to work?
LL: Slightly obsessive. For me when you love what you do then you give it your all. It’s hard to separate myself from my role purely because I love it. The ethos of why we do what we do drives how we do it – I try to instil this feeling with all of the academy’s 25 staff and our 700 leaners per year.

PJ: How do you manage your work-life balance and how do you relax off the job?
LL: What a question! I can often be found on my iPad, holiday or not, and I rarely switch off. For me, whilst work can be pressured and stressful, it’s what I do and what I love. It’s my passion. Therefore my life is my work and my work is my life. Relaxing however is mostly achieved by a large glass, or three, of full bodied red wine.

PJ: What are your plans for Holts Academy next year?
LL: Now it’s just getting exciting. The team and I have spent considerable years not only delivering new qualifications and courses for the trade but also developing some of the most exciting qualifications and apprenticeships I have ever had the pleasure of leading. Aside from expanding the jewellery offer to advanced levels and higher level apprenticeships we have developed our retail jewellery qualifications and apprenticeships as well as Creative Enterprise Programmes and are working on a raft of new things for next year. We have a big event coming up in the new year and a number of exciting announcements that I look forward to sharing with the trade.
 

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