How to hire your first apprentice

School leavers are shunning university for more vocational education. Here's how to hire them.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 23 Mar 2017

For a long time apprenticeships have been derided by some as an option for less bright kids who can’t make it into university and want to train as plumbers or mechanics instead. But with the cost of going to uni soaring and the skills gap widening, apprenticeships are an increasingly attractive option for students and employers alike.

The government has been keen to rehabilitate the image of apprenticeships and they are no longer limited to traditional trades – courses are available in everything from project management to conveyance and (more controversially) retail. While the forthcoming Apprenticeship Levy will only affect the very largest of employers, apprenticeships can also be worthwhile for small companies, and those with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from funding their apprentices’ training courses, provided they are aged 16-18.

‘There’s a skills gap in cyber security and in technology generally,’ says Helen Wheatley, head of HR at Becrypt, a cyber security company with 60 employees. ‘We’re finding it quite tricky to recruit sometimes and we’re finding that a lot of people we recruit straight from university don’t really have the right skills we need.’

‘I’ve often found people who have spent some time in the industry needed to be untrained,’ adds Simon Schnieders, founder of SEO consultancy Blue Array. ‘So I thought that starting from scratch might be a worthwhile option.’ So how do you go about recruiting an apprentice?

Temper your expectations. Employing an apprentice is an opportunity to shape a young person’s skills to best suit your business and industry, but don’t expect them to be work-ready from the get-go. ‘They’re going to be incredibly raw,’ says Schnieders. ‘They may often be young people who felt they needed to drop out of the education system for one reason or another, they often come from challenging backgrounds and you’ve got to be prepared for that.’

Approach a training provider. Every apprenticeship is effectively a partnership between you the employer and a training provider that gives classroom-based education. Some are traditional colleges and others are dedicated to apprenticeships. Employers give the providers a job spec and person requirements and providers advise on the best type and level of apprenticeship. You can find a provider on the government's website. 

It’s worth weighing up the details of different providers’ programmes before signing up – ‘with some the apprentices spend so long away from the business that you’re actually just paying for their education rather than them being able to contribute to the business in a meaningful way,’ says Schnieders.


Read more: Has the graduate milkround gone sour? 


Find the best candidates. You can assess apprentices in much the same way you would other new hires, though Wheatley suggests making the process a little less intimidating. ‘These young people often haven’t had a job before so we’re quite careful about making sure they understood what was going to be involved before the interview and what they were going to be asked.’ she says.

Schnieders suggests interviewing a long-list of candidates via Skype before inviting them in for an interview. ‘There’s a level of maturity we need to see demonstrated by the individual before they’re worth getting in.’

Review your policies. Workers younger than 18 have some extra rights that don’t apply to adults and you may need to introduce a safeguarding policy. The training provider should be able to provide you with more information on this.

Train them up. Apprentices in their first year have a lower minimum wage than normal workers, but they’re not just a cheap source of labour. ‘You’ve got to have a process in place that can take someone who’s very raw and mould them into somebody who is ultimately aligned not just to your business, but for the marketplace,’ says Schnieders. ‘At the end of that year do expect to be paying market rates for that individual. If not, you haven’t done your job.’

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