Why Investing in an Apprenticeship Makes Sense

Apprenticeship programmes are proving superior to graduate recruitment for many employers,

explains Nichola Hay, Director at Outsource Training & Development

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Many employers are becoming wise to the fact that apprentice programmes can be a cost effective and flexible way of recruiting, retaining and developing new staff. The affordability of apprentice programmes often results in a greater return on investment than graduate programmes as many organisations find that productivity among apprentices can be greater than graduates.

Many employers are becoming wise to the fact that apprentice programmes can be a cost effective and flexible way of recruiting, retaining and developing new staff. The affordability of apprentice programmes often results in a greater return on investment than graduate programmes as many organisations find that productivity among apprentices can be greater than graduates.

In fact, four out of five employers say apprenticeships are likely to play a bigger part in their future recruitment policy and 75% of employers say apprenticeships have reduced their recruitment costs1

Apprenticeships for young people aged 16-24 are available to businesses of all sizes and sectors in England. The training programme can be tailored precisely to the needs of the business including the duration and the budget of the apprenticeship. A training organisation or an awarding body will work closely with an employer to ensure that the apprenticeship offered is the most appropriate for the individual’s job role. Designing a programme to deliver the right outcome is essential and there is a lot more flexibility in this process than many employers realise.

Apprentices v. graduates

Apprentices tend to have different expectations of the employment opportunity than graduates, who often have high expectations of taking up managerial roles, often with little knowledge or experience to support their aspirations.

Apprentices who are hardworking and eager to please are more likely to repay the investment in developing them by staying with the employer who took them on. 80% of employers believe apprenticeships reduce staff turnover, according to a survey carried out by Populus. This stability is good for business, enabling effective succession planning.

In contrast, graduate recruitment programmes tend to attract people looking for the first rung on the career ladder. Many graduates will soon be looking around for their next opportunity in another business, in order to build their CV.

The new face of apprentices

Apprentices were traditionally taken on for manual roles but modern apprenticeships are available in many roles and in most sectors. Apprentices are taken on for marketing and communications roles, as passenger services agents for airlines and for business roles such as IT, project management, finance, HR and resourcing, and as recruitment consultants, for example.

The advertising industry had reservations about taking on apprentices but global media agency Mediacom took the plunge. Apprentices went into high-level marketing and client-facing roles dealing with major clients. Mediacom retained all of the apprentices it took on in the first year and found them at least on par with the graduate intake. It has now recruited more apprentices.

British Airways (BA) took apprentices for the first time ever into its cargo operations last year. Originally BA took the apprentices on a two-year programme.  The programme was so successful that BA hopes to take these apprentices into permanent roles and to bring a further 12 apprentices into the company.

Apprentices no longer just come into the business, fulfil their apprenticeship and, hopefully, start work in the business. Progression is possible all the way to degree level. A pre-apprenticeship traineeship scheme has also been introduced recently. This offers a high quality work experience placement and classroom-based training for would-be apprentices to get their basic skills up to scratch before applying for an apprenticeship, ensuring employers get well-qualified applicants.

Employers can use apprenticeship programmes to plug skills gaps in the business. They may have an issue with having staff that are only skilled in certain areas, preferring staff that are more multi-skilled to address upturns and downturns in business. In that case, employers can take a multi-skilling approach to their apprenticeship scheme, rotating apprentices around different departments to create a wider skillset for the business. In comparison, traditional recruitment of experienced staff or graduates tends to focus on specific skills or roles.

Return on investment

While there is funding to support the design and delivery of the apprentice training programme, employees do have to pay apprentices and will be looking closely at the return on investment of employing them. The Skills Funding Agency website has more information about the funding available at https://skillsfundingagency.bis.gov.uk/providers/fundingrules/

Measures such as recruitment lead times, staff retention and rate of promotion and progression of staff all provide a good indication of a pleasing return on investment. A third of employers report that apprentices add value from the first day, according to Populus.

Research shows that the average apprenticeship completer increases business productivity by £214 per week2 and 75% of employers of apprentices say the programme has helped cut recruitment costs.3

Starting points for an apprenticeship programme

The first step for a business considering investing in apprenticeships is to identify areas to bring apprentices into the business. For example, London Fire Brigade did not think it could use apprentices but it realised it could turn temp roles into two apprenticeship vacancies.

If employers are to get the best from their apprentices, it is important to identify and work with a good training provider who can meet the needs of the business. It is critical that the design of the programme is employer-led, taking into account the business needs of the organisation and identifying any training needs.

Employers should be looking for a training provider who will work with them to design the training programme to meet the employer’s needs, not just supply off the shelf training packages. It is possible to link units of study such as industry-specific qualifications to a core apprenticeship framework qualification. Apprentices in BA’s HR department had an administrative role with customer service at the heart of it and the role also called for payroll knowledge. So BA implemented the business administration framework and attached customer service units and a payroll module.

Similarly the Collinson Group is taking apprentices into its insurance department. Job roles are largely administrative but the apprentices also need to learn about insurance so it is incorporating insurance units from the financial services apprentice qualification and attaching it to the core admin qualification.

A successful apprenticeship programme allows employers to take on motivated staff and shape and develop them into valuable resources for the business in a more cost effective way than most alternative forms of recruitment. It is not surprising that employers are now offering record high numbers of apprenticeships.

  Tips for a successful apprenticeship programme 

  1. Spend time identifying roles within the organisation that might be suitable for apprentices. Look at areas where you might take temps into the business, where you struggle to recruit or where you have an ageing workforce
  2. Select the right training provider for your business. Use the National Apprenticeship Service to identify training providers then check out the Ofsted reports of potential providers
  3. Look out for training providers willing to tailor programmes to your business. Some training providers will try to fit the employer and the qualification to the funding. That is a mistake. It is key to design the training programme to meet business needs – then focus on funding.
  4. Get the buy in of current employees who will be supporting apprentices. You might hold awareness sessions to prepare for the arrival of apprentices
  5. Enlist the support of champions and mentors to support and inspire the apprentices
  6. Make sure the apprentices are inducted fully into the programme and the business
  7. Challenge your apprentices. Design a flexible programme to stretch and motivate apprentices and identify future talent.

Outsource Training & Development has over 20 years’ experience across a variety of industry sectors. The company provides recruitment solutions via apprenticeship schemes for young people and adults and, where appropriate, we will secure the funding. Outsource Training & Development will help organisations to design the most effective job descriptions, advertise, search, select and shortlist candidates and embed a bespoke induction process to help achieve the client’s business objectives. For further information please visit: www.outsourcetraining.org


12013 Populus Research

2 ‘Productivity Matters’, Centre for Economic and Business Research, 2013

3 Populus Research commissioned by the National Apprenticeship Service, March 2013

150 150 Eddie Kilkelly

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