Lord Alan Sugar’s notorious catchphrase “you’re hired”, or the more frequently used “you’re fired”, has become a cliché since he began recruiting staff on the BBC’s The Apprentice in 2004. The programme has done much to raise the profile of apprenticeships as well as positioning Lord Sugar as a conscientious employer who hires candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds and skill sets. However, with the start of the latest series due this spring he’s more recently been making headlines for issues surrounding former Apprentice winner Stella English.
While this case is yet to be resolved, it prompted me to think about the expectation gap many employers and apprentices experience. This often raises the question ‘how can businesses ensure they are providing a quality apprenticeship programme which benefits both them and the individual?’
The rise of the apprentice
The Government has set out a number of incentives for those considering taking on an apprentice by increasing funding and reducing red tape. As a result, we’ve seen the number of apprenticeships increase. There were 520,600 apprenticeship starts in the 2011/2012 academic year. This is 63,400 more than the number of starts in the 2010/11 academic year, and 240,900 more than in 2009/10. With this rise in the number of apprentices, as well as ever more interest from policy makers and the media, it is particularly important for employers to ensure the quality of training keeps up with the quantity of apprentices they take on.
To train helps the business gain
Some employers are already doing just that, running successful apprenticeship schemes which deliver skills designed around a specific business need and, in the process, providing the skilled workers they need for the future. John Lewis is one example. It launched its apprenticeship scheme in 2012 with the aim of creating a long-term sustainable route for new talent into the business. Capgemini, the IT services firm, similarly has apprenticeship programmes, which include a 12-week accelerated learning course followed by on-the-job training alongside experienced employees on projects for clients.
The success of schemes like these is down to an organisation wide buy-in and understanding of what it takes to nurture and support apprentices. This is particularly the case for young people, where this may be their first experience of a real working environment. But get this right and it’s not only the individuals who benefit: In a recent survey of apprentices we undertook, 69% said their favourite part of the programme was practical on-the-job training and a significant minority (47%) was planning on staying with the company long term.
It is fantastic to see thousands of businesses, big and small, developing the skills their workforce needs to thrive both now and in the future. However, we must remember it is a long term commitment. Employers should ensure they’re doing more than quoting Lord Sugar’s catch-phrase ‘you’re hired’. They need to provide apprentices with a quality experience, which gives them the foundation on which to build a successful future career as well as create the next generation of talented employees.
Sarah Jones is chief executive of learndirect, the nationwide e-teaching organisation