Last year, it was revealed there were 509,400 new apprenticeships started in the UK – a rise of 9,500 over the previous year.
Proof, if it were needed, that apprentices are now considered a vital element of modern business.
Your business may have already taken on an apprentice. Equally, you might be considering dipping your toes into apprenticeship water for the first time.
If you rank among the former and have had a poor experience where the apprentice has been inadvertently under-utilised or poorly sourced, it might have put you off. If you reside within the latter camp, you may be wondering why you should join the throng of businesses investing in apprenticeships.
There’s no doubting that it can be a daunting prospect. Employing someone as young as an apprentice is a great way to add to the organisation’s existing skill base, increase staff motivation and grow a vibrant workforce, but it has its pitfalls, too.
In this post, we’re going to look at ten ways any business can make the most of a new apprenticeship.
1. Welcome them with open arms
An apprentice’s first few days in a new working environment will be nerve-wracking. Given their limited experience, they’ll approach your business with a significant degree of trepidation.
For this reason, it’s vital that you get them off to the best possible start. That means creating a welcoming environment that instantly makes them feel at home; introduce them to the entire team, encourage them to immediately make use of the facilities and have their shiny new desk ready and waiting for their arrival.
2. Set them up with a mentor
Mentors are often seen as only being appropriate or beneficial for the people who reside on branches much further up the company tree, but they can be put to far wider use.
Apprentices benefit significantly from having someone by their side (both figuratively and literally) during their tenure with your organisation. This is mentoring in its most basic form, and simply requires you to select an existing member of staff who can become the apprentice’s first point of contact, tutor and confidant.
You’ll be surprised by how many volunteers you find!
3. Set clear objectives and goals
Just like any member of staff, an apprentice needs to work towards clear goals if they’re to grow in stature, improve their skills and, ultimately, be of value to the business.
It’s for this reason that you’ll need to set objectives for them which are both achievable and capable of guiding them towards that big end goal.
Review their objectives regularly and empower them to make changes and suggest new objectives as the business strategy develops. You never know – your new apprentice may just discover an inefficiency or opportunity you might otherwise have missed.
4. Be approachable
Given their inexperience, many apprentices find it hard to be proactive in asking for help.
To give them the best possible chance of success, it’s vital that the business as a whole is approachable. That means every member of staff – from top to bottom – should be available to offer help and be proactive themselves in asking whether or not an apprentice needs assistance with anything.
5. Track progress
Apprentices are generally fast learners and their youthful, inquisitive minds will often result in a member of staff who exceeds expectations when it comes to professional growth.
Monitor your apprentice’s progress by holding regular catch-up meetings. Track their knowledge, skills and level of ambition and modify their position within the company accordingly.
Great communication remains a vital asset in business, and for your organisation to make the most of its apprentices, it needs to demonstrate that it wants to listen to them – not just bark its orders.
Lend an ear to your apprentice whenever it’s needed. The more vocal will have plenty to say, while those who are reserved will need encouragement. Whatever the situation, take the time to become a good listener; as noted previously, the young person in front of you might have some wonderful ideas.
7. Provide an insight into the entire business
Apprentices generally start their employment with a tightly-defined job role and core set of responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean they have to reside solely within that domain.
You apprentice should be given the opportunity to learn about the wider business – how it works, what makes it tick and what goes on behind it’s many, seemingly closed, doors.
Link the apprentice up with as many departments as possible, and give them the chance to gain an insight into how the entire organisation functions. You might just spark a desire within them to follow a different path.
8. Set the best example possible
Apprentices are sponge-like in their ability to soak up as much information and advice as possible in their formative years.
This is a great asset for businesses, because it means they’ll quickly take on board new skills and develop them relatively quickly. However, it also means they’ll latch onto any bad habits on display.
The way the existing employees within the business go about their days will have a profound affect on an apprentice, which is why everyone needs to set the best possible example.
Lead how you’d want to be led and avoid telling apprentices to do the things you wouldn’t do yourself – even if it seems like an easy way to get a job off your hands!
9. View it as a long term commitment
One of the biggest mistakes made by businesses who invest in apprenticeships is viewing them as short-term commitments. In reality, they’re much more than that.
During their time with you, the apprentice may develop a desire to stay with the company. They might even find a new avenue that excites them and for which they didn’t originally enter the building.
At the end of the apprenticeship, review their performance, seek their feedback and get a feel for whether or not there could be the opportunity to employ them on a full time basis.
Given the fact the apprentice will have been guided through those first, tentative steps into the world of work by your organisation, there’s a strong chance they’ll have developed an affinity to it. That could make them one of the most loyal members of your workforce if you decide to offer them a position beyond the apprenticeship.
10. Build on what you learn from the experience
Apprenticeships are a learning process for the business, too.
At the end of the apprenticeship, take some time to reflect on the experience. What did you learn about the apprentice and the way in which your business handled them? More importantly, what did the apprentice teach you about the business?
An apprentice offers a fresh pair of eyes on any organisation. Despite their inexperience, they may well have uncovered things that you simply wouldn’t have found because of your proximity to the day-to-day running of the business.
If you decide to invest in more apprenticeship schemes in the future, use the last one to inform how you’ll approach the next in order to provide a great experience for new recruits.
The takeaway today is pleasingly simple; bringing on board an apprentice is no different to employing a new member of staff. In fact, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
So, embrace the world of apprenticeships by using our tips above. It’ll help you find new talent, build a venerable workforce and give someone the best possible chance to get started in their career field.