MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Getting the most from an apprentice scheme

As we go into National Apprenticeship Week, here are ten great ways to ensure your own scheme is best-in-class.

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 19 Nov 2013
We’re now officially in Apprenticeship Week, and if the whole Lord Sugar thing hasn't put you off the idea completely, it's a good time to think about launching a scheme of your own. Equally, if you already have one, this is a good time to think about ways of making it even better. But what makes a great scheme?

MT asked Britvic’s HR Delivery Director Sue Skinner, who's just in the process of launching the company's 2011 programme, for her top tips on how to make an apprentice scheme work for businesses of all sizes.

1. Focus on skills that support your long-term business strategy
One of the major benefits of investing in an apprenticeship scheme is that it tailors the employees’ experience to your exact needs. But the real results will be felt in the long-term, so focus on future as well as current needs. In addition, you can train people in skills that may be lacking in the market, and developing them on-site means that you align them closely to your business’ way of working.

2. Take time to recruit the right people
Before this, however, you need to think about what type of candidate will help take the business forward. It is more important than ever to attract the right individuals. Look for a willingness to take responsibility, a desire to progress and a sense of loyalty. Make sure that candidates have researched the market as well as your business, knowing exactly why they want to work for you. Finding people who have the potential to progress through the company means that, one day, they could end up running it.

3. Don’t forget to consider internal applicants
As well as attracting new recruits, apprenticeships can also be promoted as opening up a new career path to existing employees, increasing staff motivation and retention. 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.

4. Mix it up
Think about the mixture of on- and off-the-job learning that you offer, making sure apprentices learn the skills that will work best for your business. Remember that they can also help you develop the specialist skills you need to keep pace with the latest technology and working practices in your sector.

5. Be clear about what’s expected
Set out the requirements of the programme, both academically and on-the-job. Agree with the apprentice that they feel able to take on this responsibility. Make sure they know to ask questions if they are unsure of anything, and provide a defined support network of people they can turn to, should they need to.

6. Motivate your workforce
Apprentices tend to be eager, motivated, flexible and loyal to the company that invests in them. They want to work with you. Make sure you continue to give them reasons to want to do so, including different activities and modules within the programme and providing exposure to different areas and people within the business.

7. 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. At Britvic we recognise that it can be very challenging as young people enter new roles at the same time as undertaking new academic studies. With this in mind, 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.

8. Remember it's a job
Apprentices have the same rights and responsibilities as other employees - don’t ever think of them as just a low cost option. 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.

9. Evaluate
Make sure there are clear milestones to be achieved over the programme. That way the apprentices feel a sense of achievement as they tick different successes off and they’ll remain excited about what they are learning. You can also be certain that they are developing, learning the skills and qualities which will be a real benefit for your business in the future.

10. Don’t stop when the training stops
The Warwick Institute of Employment Research shows that the time required for employers to recoup their investment is between two and three years. Keep checking in with the employees, making sure they continue to be happy and inspired. Monitor the work they are contributing to and you will see firsthand the positive investment which they have brought to the business.

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