How to choose an apprentice

Apprenticeships are a nice idea but how do you make sure your new recruit isn't a drag on the business? Stephen Maher on how he launched an apprenticeship scheme at his comms agency.

by Stephen Maher
Last Updated: 22 Feb 2012

Having seen the passion that came through our doors vwhen we launched our graduate intern programme, we spotted great potential in the abilities of apprentices. The philosophy behind apprenticeships marries with that of the business: working and learning are not separate entities but feed into each other so that staff develop professionally.

The beauty of apprenticeships is being able to cherry-pick the cream of the crop, a crop full of creative, hungry minds. The best apprentices come from all walks of life – they may even be self taught. They may not be academic but they must demonstrate flair.

Choosing from a crop of apprentices is not quite so easy. Experience of recruiting graduates tells us this. How does one distinguish two candidates with identical high class degrees? Well, a degree in isolation is simply not enough. They must have a spark that we can help shape and grow.
A potential apprentice must have, more than anything, passion. The candidate must be able to prove that they live and breathe their topic of expertise. A clear indicator is in extra-curricular activity, in that they exercise their passion and skills in their everyday lives rather than on demand. In our case of searching for a digital apprentice, or the next Steve Jobs of the digital world, we are looking for someone who applies their skills and knowledge to their everyday lives. This indicates that they’re switched on to the real world.
Willingness to learn is crucial. An apprentice must show that they immerse themselves in their topic because they love to explore around their specialty, not just to learn for the sake of passing grades. No business has time for a dog’s body. We’re looking for those bright young things that will throw themselves head first into the culture. One candidate we interviewed at just 17 years old had set up a website for a local jewellery shop. Many of these budding apprentices are proactively finding ways to make money whilst not allowing their creativity to be stumped, even during economic uncertainty.
Businesses need to be kept on their toes, staying fresh with new ideas. Apprenticeships inculcate this idea. The best apprentices will be those with innate enthusiasm that seems almost tangible.

As a head of a business, I believe that young people are fundamental to its success. They bring new ideas to the table that we can learn from. Talented apprentices are abreast of new trends so not only do they feed off our knowledge but in exchange we learn from them, ensuring that we stay young and relevant. I see it as a constant exchange of igniting inspiration.
Apprenticeships allow businesses to lay foundations for catching talent in years to come that may go unnoticed via the traditional recruitment routes. The fact that these candidates are coming through apprenticeship initiatives automatically shows that they think differently, which in a fast-changing world, is a coveted quality that paves the way for necessary innovation and adaptation.

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