From education to employment

Apprenticeships for existing staff – what are the considerations?

Wendy Wilkinson, Associate, Strategic Development Network (SDN)

Although apprenticeship starts are down, the apprenticeship levy is now driving a wider variety of employers to get involved with apprenticeships with many looking to upskill existing staff rather than new recruits.

So, what does this mean for training providers working with these employers? What impact does this have on the training, and in what ways might you need to adapt your approach?

SDN associate, Wendy Wilkinson, serves up four considerations to get you thinking…

1. Start with the basics – recruit the right staff to the right apprenticeship

The first hurdle to overcome when recruiting existing staff onto an apprenticeship, is dealing with misconceptions.

Some assume that apprenticeships are for someone younger or newer to the organisation, or just for those in the ‘craft’ trades. Others assume that an apprenticeship means going back to school or back to the basics, and may have fears about revisiting English and maths.

Think about the kind of information you can provide to employers, and their staff, to help blow these misconceptions away. Providing an overview of the new standards now available in a wide variety of occupations at many different levels, will be a real eye opener.

Look at how you might use the new standards to deepen the discussion. Reviewing the knowledge, skills and behaviours set out in the standard with potential apprentices will help to highlight existing skills and any gaps. Look at how you use this starting point to talk through career aspirations and the progression opportunities built into the standards, and those afforded at the workplace and beyond.

At the start of the conversation, it’s really important that you, and the employer, are clear on eligibility (particularly who is and isn’t fundable). Also, there must be enough development to warrant the member of staff going onto an apprenticeship programme, and meeting the minimum duration of the standard.

2. Build your relationship with the apprentice on-programme

Being ‘in learning’ has many benefits both in work (professionally) and personally. Learning to do something new, or learning to do something better, builds confidence and competence. And this is where building the relationship with the apprentice on-programme is important, particularly if they are an existing member of staff.

Knowing your apprentice, their career ambitions, previous employment and learning, their strengths and weaknesses, and their like and dislikes, will help you build an individualised training programme.

Effective three-way communication between the apprentice, line manager / mentor, and you as the trainer / coach, will help to strengthen the relationship further.

By seeing small correlations between the training and their performance in their role at an early stage, will help reinforce the appropriateness of the training and maintain the apprentice’s ongoing engagement in their learning.

3. Maintain momentum and motivation

If the apprentice is a new recruit, it is often easier to build the apprenticeship into their work schedule from the start. They may also be motivated, because they are learning a new role and the apprenticeship helps to underpin this. But for existing staff, they may have been in the organisation some time, and are perhaps less aware of the opportunities for learning through an apprenticeship. They may also have significant responsibilities within the organisation, and apprenticeships will often place additional demands on their time.

If not carefully managed, the pressure of existing work can compromise the time required for on and off-the-job training. So in what ways can this be managed?

The key is flexibility. Each time you have contact with the apprentice and line-manager (and/or mentor), consider any peaks and troughs in their workload, or any other pressures on their time inside and outside of the workplace, and then look at how their learning plan can be adjusted. Their plan needs to be realistic and adaptable – have achievable deadlines and targets, follow-up and progress review points.

Alongside the trainer / coach relationship, establishing a group or cohort identity with other apprentices or other staff can also help to maintain motivation. Look at how you might use online learning platforms or social media (e.g. Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn) to allow apprentices to share ideas, raise queries, and build relationships with peers.

4. Celebrate success

For existing employees – those for whom learning and development may have been some time ago – celebrating success will be particularly important.

Achievement should be recognised throughout the apprenticeship reflecting the detailed feedback and results evidenced against the standard. Recognition of progress should be supported by the line manager / mentor and must ultimately result in tangible benefits to the organisation from the apprenticeship training.

In some cases, achievement of milestones, or the apprenticeship as a whole, may be linked to a rise in salary, promotion or cement a higher-level role.

Think about how you might encourage the employer to celebrate success in other ways too. This might include, for example, celebrating achievement through bulletins, newsletters, social media, awards or ceremonies. As the training provider, look at ways you may be able to develop case studies or encourage apprentices to take on ambassador roles to support other cohorts.

In a nut-shell, training existing staff through an apprenticeship should remove any misconceptions, be pitched at the right level (taking account of their experience and expertise in the organisation), allows the apprentice to flourish in their developing role, helps them (and their employer) see the direct benefit to the business, and provide impetus and opportunity for their future career.

Wendy Wilkinson, Associate, Strategic Development Network (SDN)

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