Why take on an apprentice?

More than just cheap labour, apprentices can help your business prosper. UK entrepreneurs reveal the business benefits of hiring an apprentice…

Government statistics show that there has never been a better time to recruit an apprentice in the UK.

75% of employers report that taking on an apprentice has helped their business improve the quality of their product and service, while 77% of employers (2015-2016) have retained their apprentice and made them a permanent employee.

Apprenticeship participation also stands at a record level – 899,400 funded apprentices participated on an apprenticeship scheme in 2015 to 2016.

With National Apprenticeship Week kicking off today, running from March 6 to March 10, we have created a handy guide on the business benefits of an apprenticeship.

Featuring honest advice and testimonials from small business owners who have hired apprentices, some for the first time, read on to learn how your start-up or small company could gain from taking on apprentice…

1. Apprentices are a cost-effective way to invest in the future of your business

Refused Car Finance managing director, Craig Rutherford, took on an apprentice at the start of 2016 and has found the experience to be wholly positive:

“Taking on an apprentice allows you to help grow and develop an individual, allowing them to secure a better future career and improving job prospects for the future. You’re investing in the future of the apprentice’s career and the future of your business.

“In my case, the demands within the role weren’t huge initially but, over time, it has developed into an important and demanding position as our business has grown.

“It’s one of the most cost effective ways of growing a business whilst plugging skills gaps in the UK.”

2. Hiring an apprentice lets you build talent from scratch AND upskill existing employees

Telecoms business PureComms employs apprentices from the local area, including Weston College. Its business development director, Jane Vivian, believes that employers need to look past the “dated perception of apprenticeship schemes”:

“Times have moved on and there are apprenticeships for most industry sectors and business functions.

“Too often [apprentices are] considered a second option by employers, but our experience is that offering an apprenticeship can add true value to a business and offer the opportunity to ‘mould’ somebody to understand and project the ethos and values of a business in their everyday work.

“The education system gets unduly blamed for not meeting the employability needs of the business community. But there is a dire need for a change in mindset by employers. For example, rather than just viewing apprentices as young entrants into the jobs market, they need to look at how they can support upskilling of existing employees in the workplace; or indeed retraining older workers as the working population continues to age.”

3. Apprenticeships offer a learning experience for you too

Louize Clarke is founder of Thames Valley’s ConnectTVT. Having recently taken on her first digital apprentice, Jack, Clarke believes that “his take” has been transformative for the business:

“ConnectTVT’s is all about fostering the next generation of tech talent in the region so taking on a digital apprentice was a no-brainer.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a transformative shift in attitudes towards apprentices, and increasingly, it’s the most ambitious, entrepreneurial and commercially savvy school-leavers opting for apprenticeships. There’s real untapped talent for the taking.

“For us it was about diversifying recruitment and bringing fresh talent in.  We have a digital apprentice so his take on social media and design is so light years apart from my own and has transformed the way we can connect with a major part of our audience.

“Apprentices work best when the business is prepared to invest the time in terms of training, coaching, hands-on experience.  It’s really a two-way process as Jack supports the wider business, making for an energised and productive team.”

4. Apprenticeships give you the chance to find your next superstar employee

James Eades is managing director of Bath-based IT support car company Systemagic. Eades originally joined as an apprentice technician in 2002 and progressed through management roles to become managing director in 2010, completing purchase of the business in 2015:

“I believe working with apprentices introduces enthusiasm and a willingness to learn as well as enabling the business to train the next generation and help young people in to a career in IT.

“The apprenticeship scheme is an excellent way to put a team member through structured training while giving them the hands-on experience that’s so vital in modern business.

“My advice is simple – treat the apprentices as your next superstar, not just as cheap labour. Give them opportunities to gain experience not just the basic tasks and you’ll find they’ll contribute a huge amount to your team and your business.”

5. Taking on an apprentice lets you scale your business at a comfortable rate

Simon Schnieders is founder and CEO of boutique marketing agency Blue Array. He currently employs five apprentices between the ages of 17 and 21. Schnieders says he “is a huge advocate of the apprenticeship scheme”, not only because it helps to bridge the digital skills gap but because he feels employers “have a certain amount of social responsibility”:

“Having both older and younger staff has been a great way to scale our business at a comfortable rate. We are able to develop younger talent into senior staff but also utilise the experience of our older employees to mentor and encourage the rest of the team.

“It also helps us think beyond profit as senior staff and focus on the social element of enterprise. It makes the business far more interesting to work in and grow.

“I’d advise businesses to have a clear strategy to hiring apprentices. We like to brief the National Apprenticeship Scheme training provider on our ideal candidate and they put forward CVs that meet our criteria. We then arrange a Skype call to test the candidate’s level of communication and identify what their strengths and weaknesses are and plan around these.”

Combined with these business benefits, the entrepreneurs we spoke to said that they felt it is an employer’s ‘duty’ to hire apprentices:

Lucy Werner, founder of PR agency The Wern, has recently taken on two new apprentices through the Digital Futures programme:

“Offering an apprenticeship allows us the opportunity to provide vocational training with a salary to someone who wants to gain experience in a PR consultancy.

We strongly believe that all businesses owners have a responsibility to employ from a diverse talent pool who might not otherwise be able to afford to work for free. Whilst a degree is great, it didn’t teach me anything that I use in the work environment. The skills that our apprentice will learn (without getting into debt) will be applicable to whether she chooses to stay in PR or move a different sector.”

Wayne Guthrie, co-founder of consultancy business Fearlessly Frank, has recently taken on a design apprentice – also from the government’s Digital Futures programme. He strongly believes that he and co-founder Ben Little were “meant” to hire apprentices:

“Taking the time to pass on our own experience, is an essential part of understanding it. I think we’re meant to do it, and the benefit of taking on apprentices is that it offers us a practical and mutually beneficial opportunity to do this. When it works, everyone learns, everyone wins.

“When establishing Fearlessly Frank, one of the reasons we decided to consciously nurture young talent, was because we could see it being lost from everyday business culture, the very thing myself and my co-founder had benefitted so richly from ourselves, seemed to be disappearing.

“I’d encourage anyone considering it to get involved.”

Motivated to take on an apprentice? Now check out these useful contacts and resources:

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