Apprentice winner reveals why candidates aren't always the finest business brains

Sarah Coles
Ricky Martin
Ricky Martin

Ricky Martin, winner of The Apprentice in 2012, has been inspired by his experiences on the show to hire his own apprentices. They bear no resemblance, however, to the more colourful characters from the hit TV Show.

He told AOL Money: "People say, 'I've seen the candidates for this year and they don't look like the best in class', and I say there are two reasons for that. The first is that this is entertainment, and there have to be candidates in the process who make entertaining TV. The second is that the series is called 'The Apprentice', it's not called 'The Best Business Person in the Country'. You need to look on it as a 12-week apprenticeship. The idea is to find someone who comes through the process best: who successfully learns from the experience and shows they have the ability to develop."

He adds that his own 12 weeks on the programme were a vital learning experience. He admits he wasn't a fully rounded entrepreneur when he went into the process, but he learned an enormous amount. He says: "I went in bullish and a bit arrogant." He's not kidding. His early claim that: "I'm like a shark, right at the top of the food chain. I take what I want, when I want. I truly am the reflection of perfection," has gone down in Apprentice history.

However, he told AOL: "The programme made sure I was quickly taken out of my comfort zone and challenged, which brought me down to earth (something that needed to be done). I learned a great deal - including patience. The challenges are not things I ever expect to do again, but I learned how to be humble, to be open to ideas, to apply them, and to show I was learning."

His own apprentice

Martin took the title in 2012, winning a £250,000 investment in his start-up recruitment business, Hyper Recruitment Solutions, run in partnership with Lord Sugar. He now employs 25 people in the specialist recruitment of scientists, and has taken the decision to employ two apprentices.

These are apprentices of an entirely different nature. The selection process doesn't involve any high drama. Instead, a local college filters the applications, and only puts forward the final few candidates. Martin interviewed them, but rather than the intimidating interviews of The Apprentice, exposing lies and demanding difficult answers, he wants to get to know the candidates. He says: "I look for attitude. I can teach people the skills they need for this business, but I can't teach them the will to do it, so I look for people with the right approach."

His first apprentice is near the end of the first year, working towards NVQ Level 2, the equivalent of a GCSE, the second is a newer recruit. If the first year is successful, the apprentices can work towards NVQ Level 3, the equivalent of an A-Level. Once qualified, they will have the opportunity to work as a full time consultant in the business.

Martin was keen to employ apprentices for a number of reasons. He wanted to ensure there was the structure within the business to enable career progression, and he saw the opportunity to shape the careers of valuable and loyal employees.

He was also concerned that by employing graduates he was missing out on good candidates. He explains: "I was able to work and support myself through university, but it costs five times as much nowadays, so I wouldn't have been able to afford it. I didn't want to miss out on people like me."

In order to make the process work, however, the whole business had to buy into the idea of having apprentices. The recruits have an apprenticeships mentor, a former teacher who works within the business. Part of the development of existing consultants is also to provide coaching. He says: "It's not cheap labour, because there is the burden of the work it takes to get them up to speed. We're in it for the long-term. If we get it right, then one day these apprentices will go on to coach new apprentices."

That's something we may not be able to say for some of the more entertaining characters of The Apprentice TV show. Given their pick of workplace mentors, for example, there probably aren't many people who would opt for the likes of Katie Hopkins.