Apprenticeships - the highs and lows

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No matter what industry you are in, I firmly believe that investing in training through an apprenticeship programme can provide your business with real benefits. A business is all about its people and an apprentice scheme gives businesses the opportunity not only to select the right people but also to mould their attitude, which is priceless. 

But recruiting the right person is key and as we’ve found out this isn’t always easy. An apprentice requires a very different approach from that taken when recruiting an experienced individual. The biggest challenge in recruiting an apprentice is that you don’t always have much to go on. Most apprentices are fresh out of college or school, they don’t have much work experience and their CVs are often sparse, focusing on school exam results and no real work experience.

The reality is that lots of potential apprentices we’ve interviewed don’t want to talk favourably about their school life; most of them are glad to get out of it. It is important to factor this into the recruitment process and instead of focusing on school, look for that spark and hunger to learn. 

Generally the interviewee is more nervous than anything so this naturally means they will not come across as you would expect. With apprentices we find it’s better to keep interviews slightly shorter than a normal interview, and not so formal. 

We try to explore their interests because we have found it is this that will get them talking. Find someone who can showcase their interest and passion for the business and you are onto a winner. In fact all of the apprentices we’ve hired had one thing in common – a genuine passion for IT and they want to learn on the job. Without this passion, it just doesn’t work. 

Also, quite often they are still trying to decide on the best way forward so most of them just won’t know where they want to be in five years time. They are looking for an employer that is going to take a chance on them, train them up and support them through their apprentice programme. Not a company that just wants them sat quietly, working at a desk.

By being warm, encouraging them to talk about what interests them, and how they think they can utilise their interests and skills in the workplace we’ve been able to identify some real gems.

We’ve been able to shape the attitude of our apprentices so that they deliver great service, take responsibility, work well with colleagues and do all the other things that make our business what it is. But to do this successfully we needed to get the buy in from all of our staff and ensure they understand how the apprentice programme works. 

HR needs to put structure in place to manage the expectations of apprentices and supervisors/other key employees alike. These can vary greatly and therefore it really helps to lay them out at the beginning of any apprentice intake or task, outlining objectives and giving an overview of what success looks like. 

Putting a clear framework in place and giving clear guidance and training to supervisors and managers will help you in the long run. By spending time with them to ensure they understand the apprentice programme and long-term business benefits, you are more likely to have their support. They are also likely to have more manageable expectations and know how better to support their apprentices.

The reality is it’s not always plain sailing at the beginning – a successful apprentice scheme takes commitment from managers and support from HR to make the relationship work. Most apprentices are new to the world of work so quite often the early days are spent teaching them basic work-related skills. 

Our apprentices found the most challenging aspect of the year was adapting to a professional environment – having to adopt a totally different way of speaking and behaving. They found manning our help desk daunting, because assisting customers is not only about communicating knowledge but also about communicating confidence.

It took time for them to adapt but by speaking to them we were able to address their concerns and challenges. It’s about having an open relationship and making sure they are surrounded by a supportive team, who they can turn to for help.

Whilst it’s fair to say setting up an apprenticeship scheme is extremely time consuming if you are prepared to invest some time up front to get the programme running effectively it is also very rewarding and can deliver a real return on investment. 



# Shaun 2015-06-19 15:25
Exceptional article. I would also like to add some beneficial points to taking on an apprentice:

- They are easily trained to work in the ways your business does things.

- Apprenticeships bring a fresh perspective to a business.

- Whilst not many people would like to admit this but they are cheaper than hiring a fully qualified person which is another point altogether.

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