Ricky Doyle is CEO of Practice Labs

@Ricky_Doyle_ @PracticeLabs shares some thoughts on retaining Apprentices during the pandemic 

It’s a tough time at the moment and this is impacting on all of us, not least our apprentices – what’s left of them that is. Apprenticeship starts are at an all-time low, and colleges and other apprenticeship providers are really feeling the strain. 

Employers find themselves in a difficult position too. It’s not that they don’t want to support apprenticeships, but they may have been forced to lose some of their more experienced staff and there just isn’t the time or the manpower – not to mention the space necessary to comply with social distancing rules – to be able to fulfill all the requirements of the on-the-job programme elements.

But before laying-off or furloughing an apprentice, take a moment to think creatively about how they may be able to help your business be more productive – and expand their skillsets at the same time. For example, did you know that you have the option to trigger a ‘break in learning’ and redeploy your apprentices to different roles? Government guidelines concerning this can be found here (see page 7).

Redeploying apprentices to support the general business

At Practice Labs we have introduced a term we call DLU. It stands for 'distribute and level-up'.

Because everyone is at capacity with work, and our 2021 hiring plans are stalled due to COVID19 constraints – until life starts to resemble something closer to what we used to call normality – we’ve adopted DLU across the business.

This is how it works:

At executive level, we each review the non-strategic tasks we need to do and allocate those to our business area leaders. Our area leaders do the same and allocate some of their tasks to the heads of department, who in turn allocate some of their tasks to the most appropriate members of their teams. In each case those involved are leveling-up to take on a task that wouldn’t normally fall within their remit.

Those team members then consider which of our apprentices and/or our most recent hires would welcome the opportunity to level-up. For example, this might involve doing some desktop research for the customer care or business development teams, or collating a calendar of events into a spreadsheet for the marketing team. Where there are consistent gaps in tasks needing to be done in entry-level positions we create an opportunity for another apprentice in the business.

Of course, in order to complete non-familiar tasks, the apprentice may need some training, but we have found that our employees are more than happy to provide mentoring and support. After all, the apprentice is helping to reduce their workloads!   

Adopting a DLU approach has benefits to the apprentice as well as to the business.

For the apprentice it:

  • Involves tasks that can be completed remotely.
  • Improves their general functional skills.
  • Extends their skillsets.
  • Gives them new insights into the business, they would otherwise not have had.
  • Provides them with new opportunities to work with and get to know colleagues outside their immediate area.
  • Helps them build confidence.
  • Allows them to form a greater understanding of where their strengths (and weaknesses lie).
  • Provides them with purpose and variety – every day is different and they are learning all the time.
  • Removes the immediate pressure of end point assessments (EPAs).
  • Increases their chances of being employed at the end of their apprenticeship if they have been able to demonstrate an intent to learn and embrace new challenges.

For the business it:

  • Frees-up employees to focus on tasks that can’t easily be delegated.
  • Helps with succession planning – identifying those at all levels who are able to ‘step-up’ (and those who can delegate effectively!).
  • Allows the business to identify hidden talents an individual may have.
  • Improves productivity.
  • Produces potential new employees who can hit the ground running and have a greater understanding about how your business works.

So, before you make the decision to lose an apprentice, take some time to reflect. Is there another option open to you?

Ricky Doyle is CEO of Practice Labs, a digital competency hub that helps people gain the fundamental hands-on digital technology skills they need to be work-ready.

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