CBCC member interview - Martina Vanickova, CEO, The Training Umbrella

On the job she loves and cares about, the habit of going with her gut feeling, dreaming big, being flexible, aspirations to change the society, and so much more…

Why did you establish your company?

I came to the UK as an au-pair 20 years ago although I had studied business in the Czech Republic. Then I worked in catering and retail management; later on I went into childcare which I began studying and which led to teaching in a company in North London. I really enjoyed it; it was motivating, and I had opportunities to progress, but in the end it wasn’t enough. I felt I couldn’t progress anymore even if I went to a different company, so decided to set up my own business.

What does your company do?

We are a private assessment centre, similar to a mini college. We teach accredited childcare qualifications written by CACHE, the awarding body, and approved by Ofqual, the government regulatory authority. We are based in the UK and deliver qualifications in London and Dubai. The qualifications are recognised internationally by most of the countries; CACHE is working hard to promote them to different governments. The UK's early years’ system works really well and it’s important that everybody is doing the same across the world.

I now have a small team of teachers but we are growing. However, it’s a very competitive and saturated market, especially in Dubai. I don’t have an office there but am currently looking at setting one up. We used to have presence in Abu Dhabi and now are trying to re-establish the links. I am also in talks with Oman. And then I’d like to grow into China.

What took you to Dubai?

In 2014, the UK government changed the requirements for these qualifications. Every time this happens, learners’ numbers drop as they worry before they understand it. This change introduced a requirement for English and Maths (GCSEs) qualifications acquired within the last five years. That took a lot of learners out, so we went from 100 to 10. I noticed that one of my learners had done her qualification in Dubai, so I enquired about it with my awarding body and it turned out I could just get a learner there and begin. It doesn’t happen straightaway but once you get one, it works by word of mouth. In the UK, I get 80% of my business by word of mouth.

As you can see, I am not a classic business person, I just have an idea and I jump in and see if I can swim. If it doesn’t work, I get out, but it has worked so far.

Is China the ultimate goal?

I will be looking at China in two years as within five years I’d like the company to be more international. It’s predicted that the early years’ market will be worth US$30 bill. in the next few years. I need to get there before the market is saturated; on the other hand, I believe that although many people may do what you do, nobody does it exactly the way you do it. The right people will always find you and they are your clients, so I am not worried.

One of my goals is to expand my online presence. I already offer online training, but I am looking at potentially franchising the company because I won’t always be available. There are other projects I’d like to pursue, e.g. setting up a membership site with videos explaining every single criterion of qualification. Learners need support and there’s a lot of confusing information online, so they sometimes go for a cheaper version of the qualification, which is not what they need or it’s not fully accredited. I plan to start monthly networking events for nannies with the first one by the end of the year in London and later expand internationally.

I’ve also written a little book for children, that’s my little pet project. I haven’t done anything about it yet as I don’t feel it’s the right time, and I always go with my feelings. But I will.

Why is your company different?

We are flexible and caring. Of course, I need to make money and I don’t undercharge. But I really care about the qualification and do turn people away if I feel they aren’t right for the qualification or for the industry. I’m sure other companies would accept them. Our learners know we care and we will do our best to get them through. The first three years, we had a 100% completion rate, which is excellent as in this sector people just drop off. Since then we’ve had drop-offs due to personal circumstances. We still have a good success rate though. If I can teach learners how to bring up decent individuals who respect each other, are confident, can be resilient, that’s how we can change the whole society. If the learners have the right knowledge, skills and belief, then they can pass them onto children.

I often work from home, go to nurseries, nannies, so I’m very flexible unlike colleges which require mandatory attendance and that’s why learners choose me as we can work around their lives.

Do you plan to expand your offering?

I’ve built a good base so now can look into other things. We are planning workshops, e.g. I am in talks with a science tutor who can deliver some of them through in-house training in nurseries – that’s not accredited qualification but it will become a CPD (continuous professional development) side of the business I am currently developing.

What motivates you?

I love my job. When I see Facebook posts, “yay, it’s Friday” with happy faces and on Monday with depressed faces, I never ever want to be in that place. If I become disillusioned with my business, I will move on. I can’t imagine coming from holiday and feeling physically sick - some people do. I just love it, I find satisfaction in seeing my learners grow, build their confidence, blossom, and essentially change their own lives as well.

Do you keep in touch with alumni?

I do keep in touch with many - some of them disappear as they wish to move on. In the future, I plan to do videos with them to show how they’ve progressed, how their lives have changed.

How would you define yourself in three words?

A huge dreamer (my partner says it’s a bad trait – I disagree), empowering (many learners tell me they feel really good working with me), and creative.

How do you relax if at all?

I often work from home and don’t have opening hours. I work when it’s necessary and when I feel like it. When I need to rest, I rest. Every year, I spend two to three months in the Czech Republic because I can take my work with me: I can use Skype, work online. I travel to Dubai where I also manage to relax. I am actually the most productive there as I don’t have normal duties as at home. I also walk my dogs every day – they don’t let me work all the time. I am not one of those who cannot relax. I try to take time off, and I love just doing nothing. I work hard, so it’s a good balance.

Last word?

I’d like to touch on networking. In this business you need people who will push you and motivate you and you do the same in return. I don’t network to get business but I love finding ideas when you speak and connect with other people.

There are not many events in my industry as my peers aren’t business owners, they are teachers who work for government schools and colleges. So I go to other events – at one of them I met the science tutor with whom I will work on workshops. Opportunities simply don’t have to lie only in your industry.

Would you like to find out more details about the services The Training Umbrella provides? Click here

By Tereza Urbankova, member of the CBCC Executive Committee

We are looking for more CBCC members to be interviewed! Please email terezaurbankova@yahoo.com if you are interested.


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