How to get the best from your apprentice

Has National Apprenticeship Week inspired you to pass on the tricks of your trade? Here's how to get the most from apprentices.

by Sue Skinner
Last Updated: 01 May 2013

In the last year, applications for apprenticeships have jumped by 41%.  They are now becoming a popular option for young people put off by the prospect of spiralling student debt. And they’re not the only ones that can reap the benefits. For employers, hiring apprentices is a way of attracting new talent and developing a skilled and diverse workforce.  Britvic, the soft drinks firm which owns brands including Robinsons and J2O, has been taking on apprentices for the last four years.

Sue Skinner, Britvic’s GB HR Director, reveals her thoughts on how to ensure quality training with long lasting benefits. 

1) Focus on developing skills that support your long-term business strategy

One of the major benefits of investing in an apprenticeship scheme is that it allows businesses to train people in skills which meet their exact business needs. This is particularly valuable when it comes to skills in short supply.

In our case, as a soft drinks manufacturer, this has involved training young people with dual skills in electrical and mechanical engineering. An apprentice scheme that is not strategically guided by the business case can be at risk of becoming short-term and tokenistic, which is of little benefit to the individuals taking part and the company that’s paying for it.  

2) It’s all about quality over quantity

This is slightly at odds with the impression you sometimes get, when businesses trumpet large numbers of training opportunities. But in our experience, fewer, higher quality schemes deliver better value both to the apprentice and the business. The most effective ones combine practical, on-the-job experience with academic learning.

Through the course of the programme, our apprentices are encouraged to work towards industry qualifications which give them a sense of continued progress and achievement.

Because we think of apprenticeships in the long term (Britvic’s engineering apprenticeship lasts five years), it is important to find the right people. As well as specific academic aptitudes, we look for individuals that have a passion and self-determination that make them more likely to stick with the programme, but which also reflect the values of the company – for example, an enthusiasm for collaboration and team work.

3) Continuity and commitment is key

A long term programme, which gives apprentices the opportunity to really hone their skills over time, is key.   For apprentices to feel valued, they need to feel that the scheme nurtures, both in terms of a career and their personal development.

Apprentices tend to be eager, motivated, flexible and loyal to the company that invests in them, so make sure you continue to give them reasons to want to work with you. This can include setting them different activities and providing exposure to different areas and people within the business.
Make sure those who meet your performance expectations have a job at the end of the programme and a career plan for ways they can fit into the business moving forwards.  Letting an apprentice go at the end of their training sends a poor message about how your business values its people; it’s a two way investment of time and commitment.

4) Don’t forget lifelong learning

Apprenticeships provide opportunities to re-skill experienced employees as much as training new ones.  

As well as attracting new recruits, apprenticeships can also be promoted as opening up a new career path to existing employees. Aged 35 and married with children, Darren Jackson is one of Britvic’s older apprentices. Having spent ten years working as a technical operator, his enthusiasm for the programme is a clear reflection of how he believes it will help him progress  to the next stage of his career, becoming a capable and knowledgeable engineer.

5) All round support is necessary

Take an interest in your apprentices’ progress. Personal support is essential to ensure they are happy and coping with their new work and study commitments.

It can be very challenging as young people enter new roles at the same time as undertaking new academic studies. At Britvic, we appoint technical buddies, business mentors, provide access to networks of people in similar situations, and have regular development days and social events where apprentices are encouraged to share their experiences in an informal environment.

Failing to support your apprentices can risk you losing them, and your investment.  Never think of your apprentices as a low cost option – it should be seen as a full time position with the same rights and responsibilities as other employees.  

National Apprenticeship Week

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