Successive Governments have been keen to press the importance and value of apprenticeships to UK business, but do they actually add value or are they simply a scheme that large firms feel obliged to participate in?
It is important to look at the context and aims of an apprenticeship scheme, removed from any political intention. Such schemes seek to train young people, who may otherwise fall into the not in employment education or training (NEET) category, to a nationally recognised level in an area of employment shortfall. When you think of apprenticeships the first thing that people envisage are the construction trades: carpentry, plumbing etc. However, there is no limit to the industries in which apprenticeships are offered. So, why bother? Ignoring the social and community benefits of improving the skills and training of young people, you will be provided with financial assistance and subsidised salaries for apprentices during their training. Here’s the important bit, if you wish to harness any value from apprenticeships then there must be a robust and positive management system in place to ensure that trainees feel valued and adopt a sense of belonging and loyalty to your organisation. If you take on an apprentice solely for the benefit of cheap labour, you may well find the exercise their option to move to another company at the end of their apprenticeship; becoming a net cost to you.
The appointment of a training manager, even as a secondary duty, regular appraisals, and genuine opportunity for career progression will result in a scheme that is low cost, profitable and leads to highly trained long term employees. The benefit to your business is a productive employee whose training costs are greatly reduced, everything else is a bonus. And there are several bonuses:
Meeting a socially perceived obligation to train the next generation
- When bidding for public sector contracts you may be asked what percentage of your workforce are apprentices, a factor which can impact contract award
- After the initial burden of developing a robust apprentice management scheme, the hard work is done; a little-and-often approach will see the scheme run effectively
On balance, apprenticeships are excellent value if, and only if, they are managed correctly and undertaken for the right reasons. Don’t do it because you think you should. View it as the medium term investment that it is and manage it accordingly.