It’s easy to see why apprenticeships appeal to businesses. If it all goes well, you have an enthusiastic learner who can contribute to the firm, hasn’t picked up any bad habits from other employers yet, is likely to want to stay after their apprenticeship ends and, of course, doesn’t break the payroll budget.
But it’s also easy to see how it can go wrong, if you don’t get the right people and or don’t support them properly.
Phil Jones is MD of Brother UK, an office equipment and business support company. He instituted an apprenticeship programme six years ago, and calls it a great success, with all apprentices subsequently securing full-time roles at the firm. But that didn’t mean there weren’t teething problems.
"We’re over 50 years old as company, and as a result we had an ageing but highly skilled workforce, mostly generation X. Whenever anyone left, we’d go to the market and recruit someone else usually of a similar age.
"I wanted to bring more young people into the business and change its makeup, from gender to age and personality types, so we brought in apprentices.
"We sent people to schools to talk through apprenticeships and what was involved. What we learned is don’t send a generation X-er to talk to 15 year olds. These 40 or 50 year olds were there talking to young people who were completely disengaged. So we started sending our 17-18 year old apprentices back to schools, and as soon as we did everyone sat up and listened.
"There was this marvellous moment a year or so ago when the first person who’d heard one of these talks as a 15 year old came to us and aggressively pursued a career at Brother because of what they'd heard.
"The second thing we learned is don’t wait to add high quality, high impact tasks to an apprentice’s workload. Our youngest apprentice was at the front of the room doing an important customer presentation after three weeks. He was only 16, but he nailed it. You’d think he was 26.
"You’d be amazed what capacity they’ve got to deal with quite challenging stuff, if you just get them included early and quickly."
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