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Who’s educating the workers about apprentices?

What do the staff your apprentices work with think of apprenticeships?

Odds are that it doesn’t quite match what you want them to think.

One of the things we come across at The Mentoring School is about people’s interpretation of what an apprenticeship is all about. And that can be very varied…

We hear misconceptions like:

“They’re cheap, what’s not to like about them…”

“College train them, we just have to offer them a job.”

“I only give them simple things to do as it’s too much hard work to give them anything else.”

“They don’t know anything.”

“They’re unreliable.”

“They make the tea and do the filing.”

Now, I am sure that you are reading this and thinking that it doesn’t apply to your apprentices. There is no way that the managers you deal with would say things like that.

But the simple truth is that you wouldn’t necessarily know if your apprentice was in a workplace filled with these misconceptions.

Many of the public don’t understand about the changes in apprenticeships over the past few years (and in the future), let’s be honest, for many of us in the trade we’re struggling to keep a grip with the number of changes happening!

There are even those who won’t take on apprentices because they recognise they have no clue about the expectations for having an apprentice.

Now, when those employers come to us, we can help them to understand, update them and guide them through, but what about the ones who don’t come for us? Or the ones where a really pro-active manager compensates for the lack of understanding in their team? Or the ones where their assessor coaches the apprentice with how to deal with the other employees?

With the Government agenda to increase apprenticeships, and the levy coming into force, ultimately we are approaching a problem, who is educating the workforce about new apprenticeships?

The developments we have seen in apprenticeships I feel are fantastic, they really are opening up opportunities for young people or those seeking work. The potential in the future to be able to progress to degree level apprenticeships is fantastic. Now, young people have a way of learning to a high level, whilst earning a wage, and not spending their working lives paying off student loans like so many of us have.

The Government has poured money into raising the prominence of apprenticeships in preparation for the levy, they are committed to making the next few years successful as the levy comes into force and the move from the framework to standards happens.

But what is happening about educating the wider workforce of these reforms? There’s an obvious need to communicate with them about the changes and how it will change working life for them. Some larger employers are so hit by the levy that they are reviewing every vacancy as it arises and considering if it should be an apprenticeship. Others have abandoned their graduate schemes to switch to apprenticeships. National supermarket chains are looking at placing apprentices in every store. One local authority (who I shan’t name) told me they think they have 8 apprentices, but they weren’t sure – now they’d need several hundred to recoup the levy.

Do we actually know how much of a problem it is?

Nobody knows, there’s a need there, but we don’t know how much of a need. Certainly, the apprenticeship advertising seems not to acknowledge it. I know a few training providers are doing their best with their employers and I’ve heard some excellent stories in my travels.

If you’re are concerned about this there are a few things that can be done to ensure it isn’t happening with your apprentices:

  • Firstly, make sure you brief managers about modern apprenticeships.
  • Secondly, when you brief managers, make sure you equip them with how to educate their staff. Prepare them for discussing what an apprenticeship is and how it is different from an employee.
  • Next, help them to understand that part of being an apprentice is about learning life and employability skills.
  • Explain the things the team can do to help the apprentices (for example check they understand a task before leaving them to do, or ask them how they’re getting on rather than leave them to complete it alone).
  • Finally, pair apprentices up with a workplace mentor (who can support them on a day to day basis).

Providing support for apprentices doesn’t just end with their manager or mentor, it really is about a team understanding.

Richard Daniel Curtis, Founder, The Mentoring School

Richard’s team deliver the award-winning National Apprentice Mentoring Qualification through employers and training providers to help enhance in-workplace support.

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