Peter Behan of Group Horizon outlines some of the dos and don’ts when taking on an apprentice.

Target your apprenticeship at areas where you have clearly identified skills gaps and shortages or future areas of growth

Give some thought to your business’ immediate and future needs and consider how an apprentice could help to fill skills gaps or help grow certain areas of your organisation. The skills that the apprentice will be learning should match the requirements of your business and provide a secure foundation that will allow them to foster a long-term career at the company.

Set clear and realistic expectations about what you are hoping to get from the apprenticeship

Discuss your business goals and how you expect the apprentice to help you achieve them. Plan ways in which the organisation can get the most from the apprenticeship by providing a clear support structure. You will eventually need to sign an agreement with your apprentice that will lay out details of the skill, trade or occupation the apprentice is being trained for, the name of the apprenticeship they’re working towards, the start and end dates for the apprenticeship and the amount of training you’ll give them.

Find a trusted organisation that offers training for the apprenticeship you’ve chosen

There are a great many regional and national training providers to choose from but be sure to select a provider with experience in your chosen field and a track record of successfully training apprentices to a high standard. An up to the minute curriculum that has been developed by businesses for businesses will offer the apprentice the transferable skills to succeed and flourish. When researching training providers, it’s worth looking out for those with industry recognised accreditations to their names.

Once the training has been agreed you will need to sign a commitment statement with the apprentice and training provider. This will document the planned content and schedule for training, what is expected and offered by the employer, the training provider and the apprentice and shed light on how to resolve queries or complaints.

Check if there is funding available for training or to cover other costs associated with taking on an apprentice

Funding for training is dependent on whether your business pays the government apprenticeship levy or not. If your organisation has an annual pay bill of more than £3 million it will be required to pay the levy and will receive funds (0.5% of the pay bill) to spend on training and assessing apprentices. The government will then add 10%. If your organisation does not need to pay the levy it will pay 5% towards the cost of training and the government will pay the other 95% up to the funding band maximum.

Organisations may also be eligible to claim an incentive payment for new apprentices who start between 1 April and 30 September 2021.

Create a job profile and advertise your apprenticeship

Create a detailed job description in the same way you would for other company positions, detailing exact requirements to attract the right sort of candidates. Apprentices aren’t always young people and they can even be current members of staff.

The National Apprenticeship Service can help promote apprenticeship opportunities to individuals, parents and education establishments and the government hosts a ‘recruit an apprentice’ service for registered training providers (including large employers with direct grant funding) to post vacancies and manage applications for apprenticeships and traineeships.

Understand that the apprentice will require time away from site for studying

Apprenticeships vary in length depending on the subject and level but will take a minimum of 12 months to complete. During this time the apprentice will require some time away from the day-to-day role within the workplace in order to attend a training programme or study.

Provide a robust support network and put mentors in place from the very start

Apprentices will, more often than not, need practical support and guidance from day one in order to help them settle into the role. Regular engagement in the form of a work mentor is often beneficial to all parties, with the mentor helping the apprentice develop good working habits and reinforcing company procedure. Routine catch-up meetings to find out how the apprentice is getting on and address any concerns are also recommended.

Treat apprentices as cut-price labour or just another pair of hands for the business

Apprentices should not be viewed as cheap/temporary labour for the business, they should be seen as a long-term business investment and as such should be a major part of the organisation’s future plans. Apprentices often bring fresh ideas and impetus and will more likely stay with an employer who has invested in them. A number of well-known business leaders started out as apprentices and worked their way to the very top.

Assign apprentices unfamiliar tasks without ensuring they have the necessary support or mentors on hand to offer guidance

The first few months of a new apprenticeship can be overwhelming and the apprentice may find themselves struggling to prioritise tasks in an unfamiliar work environment. Providing the necessary support and resources whilst carefully considering workload will help them settle into the role and integrate seamlessly into your team.

Leave the apprentice on uninspiring or repetitive jobs for long periods

Assigning an apprentice to menial tasks means you won’t get the best out of them and they won’t develop the specific skills the business needs. By offering a range of opportunities to carry out meaningful work the apprentice will grow in confidence and acquire an assortment of transferrable skills that will benefit the organisation.

Rush into taking on an apprentice without considering long term goals and engaging in succession planning

Consider how an apprentice could help your business thrive by looking at areas where they could really make a difference over an extended period of time. You may have a range of entry level positions that could work as apprenticeships or you may have hard to fill roles that require specialist training.

Always expect instant results

Set realistic expectations. Apprenticeships aren’t a short-term fix and some young people won’t have had a formal job before so may need nurturing to help them reach their full potential. For many this will be their first step on their career ladder and it will take time for them to develop the skills, confidence and experience needed to thrive.