Businesses can only progress with a motivated, appropriately skilled and pro-active workforce. An aging population, a shrinking talent pool and a growing skills gap exacerbates the problem of recruiting new blood into the commercial world. Graduates coming into the workforce often have inappropriate expectations which are out of synch with their skills and their ability to contribute. Rachael Fidler, managing director of Apprenticeship provider HTP Training, discusses why many businesses would benefit from taking on an apprentice – no matter which business sector they are engaged in. She goes on to explain how apprentices can be developed to form a bespoke pool of talent that, if managed correctly, will be fiercely loyal, hardworking and remarkably cost efficient.

At a time when the UK economy is struggling to grow, businesses need to ensure that they are resourced to grasp every opportunity available to them. To this end, it is crucial to have a talent pool of motivated, appropriately skilled and pro-active employees. New blood infuses fresh thinking and if businesses struggle to find the right people it will certainly hamper business growth and quite possibly economic recovery.

Are university graduates filling this void? It would appear not. A recent study by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) found that one in three top companies left graduate jobs unfilled amid concerns that graduates lacked the right skills for the workplace. It is hardly surprising then that in 2012 the Office for National Statistics found that 25% of 21-year-olds who left university with a degree in 2011 were unemployed.

One solution to finding new talent for business comes in the form of apprenticeships. A recent Parliamentary report found that there are currently over half a million apprentices in training and that number has been increasing since 2009. Today there are apprentices working in sectors from healthcare to retail and engineering to childcare. Employers using the apprenticeship scheme range from small business to multinational and across both public and private sectors. So why is having an apprentice such a good idea?

For employers, one of the key benefits of apprenticeships is the ability to secure highly motivated and enthusiastic staff they can train and nurture from the onset. Rather than hire someone who is experienced but may have developed some ‘bad habits’ – an apprentice is trained on the job and the training, delivered by a specialist apprenticeship training provider, is specific to your needs.

The process of securing an apprentice begins with a training provider working in consultation with the employer to understand the specific requirements for the apprenticeship opportunity. The training provider advertises the apprenticeship vacancy – at no cost to the employer – and then begins shortlisting candidates. Applicants are screened to ensure that they fit the requirements for the role, for example have a passion for sales or a friendly approachable manner for customer service or a passion for cooking if they want to work in a professional kitchen. The most suitable candidates will then be sent to the employer for interview. Once the applicant is selected, the next stage is for the training provider to tailor the training framework with the employer to include units that meet the exact requirements of the organisation. In a nutshell, the apprentice is moulded to the specific role within the business.

A common gripe amongst employers is that school leavers and graduates coming into the workplace for the first time are not work ready. Perhaps it is not surprising. Simple work etiquette, or soft skills, that many of us take for granted such as turning up to work on time, the tone of voice on the phone or team working are not taught in most schools or universities. Apprentices on the other hand are trained in these soft skills from day one and work etiquette becomes second nature to them within a matter of a few weeks as their confidence levels increase.

If an organisation is considering whether to take on an apprentice, what’s important to bear in mind is that an apprenticeship is a long term commitment; indeed Government states that it takes a minimum of 12 months to complete an apprenticeship. Apprentices are certainly not temps and should never be viewed as cheap labour. Bear in mind that an apprentice is a learner and requires an investment of not just finance, but also time. Yes, the apprenticeship training provider will help you to manage the apprentice however the employer does play a critical role in shaping the apprentice too. Here are some general guidelines to get the best out of an apprentice to help them reach their full potential:

  • Describe the career ladder: Show the apprentices that career progression routes exist for them within the organisation. This will help to demonstrate to the apprentice that you are keen to see them climb the career ladder.

 

  • Meet the parents: Yes, it may feel strange to meet an employee’s parents but some employers make it a point to meet the parents of their apprentices. It not only demonstrates commitment on the part of the employer, but parent buy-in can instill self-esteem and pride amongst young apprentices.

 

  • Give feedback: Set regular meetings with apprentices to provide counsel, feedback and praise.

 

  • Empower them: Encourage and provide guidance to help your apprentice take on tasks and responsibilities

 

  • Keep on learning:  Encourage your apprentice to keep learning by going on to take the Advanced Apprenticeship programme to up-skill them. This would allow them to progress to a Higher Apprenticeship (Level 4 and 5 equivalent qualifications) and then progress onto degree level courses.

Put simply, apprenticeships are a win-win for the employer and the apprentice. And to encourage employers to take on an apprentice, there is also the £1500 government grant to support wage costs. If an organisation employs less than 1000 members of staff, has not taken on an apprentice in the last 12 months and is looking for an apprentice who is 16 – 24 years old then it is eligible for the £1500 government grant.

With youth unemployment at record levels, an apprenticeship can play a pivotal role in helping youngsters secure on the job training to gain ‘real world’ working skills and qualification whilst getting paid for it. Many unemployed youngsters complain that employers offer work to those who have experience – but of course to gain experience you would need to have worked. Apprenticeships are the solution to this classic chicken and egg scenario.

Finally the latest research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has found that 3.8 million people will complete an apprenticeship by 2022 and contribute £3.4 billion a year to the UK economy in productivity gains.  That is much needed good news at a time of so much economic uncertainty. Isn’t it better to have youngsters who are learning, working, earning and contributing to the country’s growth than being sky high in debt and unemployed? As the Prime Minster quite rightly said, apprenticeships will soon be ‘the new norm’.

Rachael Fidler is managing director of HTP Training, the Apprenticeship provider

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