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What is the best way to take on an apprentice?

Where can you find an apprentice and what are your responsibilities as an employer?

I run a small manufacturing company and have been thinking about hiring an apprentice for a few months now. I'm not sure how to go about recruiting one though. Are there official channels I need to go through, and do I need to put together a specific plan for training and development?

Rachel Goldsack writes:

As an employer of two apprentices, I'd thoroughly recommend taking one on – it's the best business decision I've made yet. As well as seeing a 30% increase in profits, our apprentices have helped our florists grow out of our initial shed-sized premises into a full-sized shop and we are about to open a second store.

For a small but growing business like mine, where creativity and technical skills are vital to success, I firmly believe apprenticeships are the best way of recruiting the high-quality employees I need. In the past we've struggled to find employees with the right skills, but with apprentices we can nurture their talents and help them develop skills to our own high standards.

The talents of our apprentices have also enabled us to generate lots of publicity for our floristry business – through things like our success in the Apprenticeship Awards, where we've been nationally recognised for what we're doing with our apprentices as a small business, and the Chelsea Flower Show, where our apprentices have won us prizes two years in a row. Employing apprentices is really putting us on the map and helping us to broaden our customer base.

Now you've decided to bring an apprentice into your business, the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) should be your first port of call. NAS will be able to tell you which of the 190 plus apprenticeships currently available will best suit the needs of your business. There are 35 different apprenticeships in the engineering and manufacturing technologies sector so there's bound to be one aligned to your company's requirements. Depending on the exact field you work in, the apprenticeship you offer could either be very specialised or encompass a broader range of skills and techniques.  

If you call NAS on 08000 150 600, or fill in the enquiry form on their website, an apprenticeship representative will get in touch to discuss your exact training requirements and help you identify the most appropriate training provider. When I first started looking at apprenticeships I also found the website a useful place to find answers to the questions I had about what taking on an apprentice entails and how it would be good for my business. 

You can then use apprenticeship vacancies online – the official, free, online recruitment system for apprenticeships – to attract and recruit potential employees from the thousands of candidates registered on the system. You or your training provider can manage this process.

Generally, an apprenticeship takes between one and three years to complete; the exact length will depend on the skills the apprentice you hire has to begin with and the qualification they work towards with you.

As an apprentice employer, you'll need to provide your apprentice with at least 16 hours of paid employment per week. The minimum wage for apprentices is £95 a week. Employers tend to increase wages as their apprentices' skills develop and the average wage for an apprentice is £170 per week.

In terms of putting together a plan for training and development, you'll need to arrange supervision, support and mentoring for your apprentice while he or she is in the workplace and you'll be responsible for on-the-job training. NAS will match your commitment to hiring an apprentice by covering off-the-job training costs in part or, in some cases, in full.  Your training provider will guide you in the appropriate level and type of training you should provide but it is largely up to the employer to create a programme of training that suits their business needs.

You also need to think about where you're going to train your apprentice. For us, this meant creating some space away from the shop floor and the customers where we could teach our apprentices hard-to-learn, cutting-edge floristry techniques.

Rachel Goldsack owns Contemporary Flowers in Canterbury, a florist which was crowned Micro Employer of the Year at the Apprenticeship Awards 2010


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