Crash Course in ... hiring an apprentice

You're recruiting and the applicants don't seem to fit requirements. It's time to take a leaf out of Lord Sugar's book and grow your own: in other words, take on an apprentice.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Catch up. It's all changed. In the old days, parents signed their offspring to a master craftsman for up to nine years. Today's apprenticeships have no set term, and the Government funds the training for under 18s. Apprentices can be older, and in anything from accountancy to agriculture. Kate Dew of the National Apprenticeship Service says: 'There are 190 different frameworks employers can sign up to, and there will be something to fit every business.'

Take control. Rod Kenyon, director of the Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network, says: 'If you need a skilled workforce, then all the evidence shows that if you train people yourself you get a better employee. They are more productive, more likely to understand your values and to stay with you.'

It's an investment. Taking on an apprentice is not philanthropy, it's a hard-headed business decision. A study by the Warwick Institute of Employment Research shows the time required for employers to recoup their investment is between two and three years. 'If the employer can retain the apprentice for a few years, it will obtain a positive return on its investment,' say the authors.

Recruit for attitude. Apprentices don't have a lot of experience, so you're looking for other qualities: an interest in your business, a willingness to take responsibility and the ability to work in teams.

Remember it's a job. An apprentice has the same rights and responsibilities as other employees. Apprenticeship agreements are recognised as a contract of service.

Take an interest. 'The training part of the apprenticeship is often supplied by an outside provider,' says Kenyon. 'But make sure you take an interest in their progress. It sounds obvious, but many employers don't.'

Evaluate. 'Structure the development programme and assign milestone measures to be achieved over the apprenticeship,' says Dave Walsh, BT's head of apprenticeship delivery. Ensure the underpinning knowledge is of the content and quality required, he adds.

Put an arm around them. Personal support, through mentors, say, is essential to ensure your apprentice is happy and coping. 'In BT, we have a team of coaches and managers who work with the apprentices,' says Walsh. Fail to offer support and you risk losing your apprentice - and your investment.

Be responsible. You shouldn't take on an apprentice unless you are confident you will be able to employ him or her at the end of the training, barring unforeseen circumstances, says Kenyon. 'Making an apprentice redundant is appalling.'

Do say: 'Apprentices will help us develop the skills we are going to need and bring young blood into the business. You're hired.'

Don't say: 'I could get a few kids on work experience and I wouldn't even have to pay them. You're fired.'

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