Posted on 04 Apr, 2014 by Neil Sharp

apprenticesMarch saw the seventh annual National Apprenticeship Week showcasing the value Apprenticeships bring to individuals and businesses, and seeking to increase demand for young talent in the economy. A recent survey found 44% of UK businesses plan to take on apprentices in the next 5 years (8% up on the previous year), including 20% of SME’s who intend to take on one or more within the next 12 months.

Yet, despite this encouraging increase in awareness, UK manufacturing remains in desperate need of skilled staff. Engineering particularly has been hit hard raising questions about the UK’s future ability to compete on the global innovation playing field.

With over 912,000 16-24 year olds reported to be out of work between November 2013 - January 2014, there’s certainly a large resource pool out there. So how can you attract this talent into your business and secure the skills you need for the future? Here’s 6 points for you to consider when planning and structuring a programme that ensures that both you and your apprentice gain the maximum benefit from the experience:

1)    Decide what skills you are looking for.

First and foremost, you need to be clear what skills you are looking for.  What resource or experience gaps are there within your business that an apprentice could help to fill? Do you need to address any succession issues in the organisation, where a young person could truly benefit from the transfer of wealth, knowledge and skills of experienced personnel?  

2)    What are your business objectives in taking on apprentices?

Any training programme you decide to put in place should be seen as an investment. Like any investment, you are going to want to see a return. The return for your business could be significant, providing both you and your trainee understand what the ‘end goal’ is. Be clear what that is, and how it is mutually beneficial for the organisation and the apprentice.

3)    Agree what training format is best for you.

Consider the type of training programme you want to offer internally. With a wide range of options available, you need to decide which is going to work best for your business. The National Apprenticeship Service has a well established support structure in place and can answer any questions you have about recognised apprenticeship schemes. Alternatively you may decide to create your own internal training programme, tailored around your business. Whatever you decide, keep in mind the core elements:

a)    relevant ‘on the job’ training
b)    provision of a competence based qualification such as an NVQ Level 2
c)    the opportunity to study further, perhaps to HNC/HND level for example

4)    What resources are you going to need?

Once you have decided on the type of training it’s time to think about putting together a team to manage your programme. Your HR department need to be involved from the outset. You may also decide to appoint someone internally to specifically co-ordinate things.

It is good practice to assign a mentor for your trainees. Mentors may differ from those responsible for delivering ‘on the job’ training; they should be able to offer guidance to, or provide escalation for, the individual should they have any concerns throughout their time on the programme.

Finally, you must have Senior Management buy in. Any long term training programme is a serious investment. You need to be committed and accept that this programme will cost you time, money, and resource. Depending on your specific needs, programmes could last anywhere between 1 to 4 years. If you cannot afford to wait this long to see a return on investment, perhaps it’s not the right thing for you to do. 

5)    How will you attract new talent?

So what’s next? Well, providing you still think investing in talent is worthwhile you need to make yourself visible. You won’t attract any talent into your business if you don’t shout loudly about what you have to offer. You also need to be aware that the likes of Rolls-Royce, Toyota, Nissan and Airbus have a long track-record in apprenticeships, and very attractive UK manufacturing training programmes on offer.

Find unique ways to showcase your business and the exciting training opportunities you have to offer. You may want to talk to the local schools and colleges to see if there are ways you can support each other. Perhaps for example you have a machine shop that students could use from time to time on their projects? In exchange maybe they would be prepared to support and promote internally any recruitment campaigns you plan to hold such as ‘Open Days’? And don’t forget about the parents. They will want to see their son or daughter find training and employment. They may also be more motivated in making this happen sooner rather than later! It’s important therefore that whatever you do to make yourself more visible, parents get to see what you have on offer as well.

If you do make yourself visible then it’s likely that you could get a large number of applicants. Remember there is a potential talent pool of 912,000 out there. It’s important then that you give some thought to your selection process and how you will assess the quality of the applicants. Perhaps you could ask candidates to complete a series of specific academic and ‘hands on’ tasks as part of the process. Find tasks that are relevant to your business and that are easy to assess candidates against.

6)    What could go wrong?

Finally, be aware of the pitfalls of implementing any training programme. Besides the costs and time/effort involved internally, there’s nothing to stop an individual leaving your business soon after they complete the programme. That could be a disaster. Only you will know how best to reduce the risk of this happening, but it is clear that company culture plays a big part. Then there’s self discipline. You maybe tempted to cut short your programme and use the individual to plug unforeseen gaps in your workforce. Are you confident that they have gained all of the skills you so desperately needed when starting out? If not, what impact will this have on your business?

If you remain committed to the programme, are clear on your organisational needs, and faithful to your belief in training as an investment, it could be one of the most effective ways of securing talent and skills in your business that you need for the future.

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About the Author

Neil Sharp
Neil Sharp
Previously holding sales, account management and customer service roles, Neil has over 18 years’ experience within the Electronics Manufacturing Services industry. Neil heads up the marketing departme...read more