Setting up a successful scheme

Greater investment, additional numbers and extra support signal a new era for apprenticeships. But crucial to its success is ensuring employers offer quality programmes.

However, many businesses are in the dark about how they can recruit and train new talent, without jeopardising the bottom line.

Concerns about bureaucracy or cost, based on lack of information, can put employers off unnecessarily, meaning they miss out on enthusiastic and dedicated new recruits, who are likely to stay with them for a long time, and offer an excellent return on investment. 

From August, all apprenticeships for those aged 16-18 will have to last at least 12 months and must be paid employment in most cases for at least 30 hours per week. An employer must give apprentices an induction into their role, provide on-the-job training and a minimum level of off-the-job training known as guided learning hours. These hours can be provided in-house, by a local college or specialist learning provider.

According to Simon Greenleaf, strategy and partnership executive at the London Apprenticeship Company, it’s all about quality. “It’s about making the apprenticeship a quality job with real longer-term progression opportunities,” he says. “The key is that an employer creates a real job vacancy as part of a human resources plan that considers the staff they require in three to four years’ time. This way an apprentice can grow into that position.”

To ease the burden on businesses, there is a raft of incentives available for employers to take on apprentices

Currently, the minimum apprenticeship wage is around £2.60 an hour, which applies to all 16 to 18 year olds and to those aged 19 and over in the first year of their apprenticeship. But experts agree the rate needs to be realistic and sustainable for the apprentice to participate.

“Yes, you can legally pay £2.65 an hour, but at that rate an apprentice often spends more than 30 per cent of their income on travelling to work,” Mr Greenleaf says. “If you want somebody who will thrive in your business, you need to be thinking of paying the national minimum wage.”

Employers are also under the obligation to clarify if there are any sector-specific minimum wage rates relevant to their business. According to the Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD), some apprenticeships pay considerably more. For instance, the average pay for electro-technical apprentices is £210 a week. Other apprenticeships pay up to £350 a week. 

To ease the burden on businesses, there is a raft of incentives available for employers to take on apprentices. From April, small businesses employing fewer than 250 employees are able to apply for a grant of up to £1,500 when they take on their first apprentice. Central government can pay for a minimum of 50 per cent of the cost of training and, in most cases, the entire amount. On top of this, the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) is offering up to 40,000 apprenticeship grants for businesses who take on an apprentice aged 16-24.

“In the past, smaller firms have been deterred from hiring an apprentice due to perceived logistical, training and administrative costs, but the new incentives are encouraging greater involvement,” says David Way, NAS chief executive.

Kent County Council have been maximising grants and subsidies on offer by pooling various employment subsidies and £2 million of its Big Society Fund into a pioneering apprenticeship scheme.

“Using all our resources, we have managed to keep the cost to employers as low as £52 a week,” says Paul Carter, Kent County Council leader. “The cost to the employer can be halved through the application of joint subsidies, yet most employers don’t see that, all they see is red tape and paperwork.” 

To make life simpler, businesses can outsource training, and the NAS, colleges, training providers and Apprenticeship Training Agencies (ATAs) have made a huge impact on the quality and accessibility of these schemes.

“A big issue for small companies is they want to take on young people, but don’t know how to go about it,” says Craig Abrahart, operations director at Not Going To Uni. “A good training provider will work within the scope of your funding eligibility and apprenticeship requirements, and take a load off your hands by doing the groundwork for you.”

Good quality training providers make recruiting apprentices more appealing to small businesses, which may not otherwise have the means to give their young talent the best start.

“ATAs take away all the hassle of promoting the job, sourcing candidates, short-listing, recruiting, managing holiday and sick pay, instructing learning, and contracting a training provider,” says Mr Greenleaf. “Small and medium enterprises can really benefit from outsourcing all that to a professional company with a good track record that can just do it all for them.” 

The latest guide for employers looking to offer apprenticeships, released by the CIPD, stresses businesses need to look at short-term and long-term objectives, with a strategic approach to human resource management.

“Apprenticeships are most beneficial to employers when they are structured with a medium to long-term view of how that person will fit into the organisation when they complete their training,” Mr Greenleaf says. “As a business you need to be thinking three years ahead”.

Successful apprenticeship schemes are planned and integrated into the very core of the business, according to Max Reynolds, BT’s professional development manager.

“Apprenticeship planning needs to be a bottom-up to top-down process, in which needs are identified at ground level, but complemented by a top-down strategic plan,” says Mr Reynolds. “It is important to carefully plan the learning journey, so that the apprentice has ample opportunity to learn, and be able to demonstrate those increasing levels of knowledge and skills.”

The long- established BT apprenticeship scheme closely links the recruitment, training and subsequent assimilation into full-time roles and long-term skill plans of the business, he adds. 

With so many choices available for planning an apprenticeship strategy, there is no one size fits all.

BT, McDonald’s and PwC for example, offer large-scale recruitment programmes and training from the ground up. With Jaguar Land Rover, you can study a degree at the same time, while the largest private-sector provider of vocational training, Babcock, runs various apprenticeships models for the likes of BMW, Network Rail and Virgin Mobile. Unilever’s research and development scheme is dressed as an apprenticeship, but it works out more like a sponsored degree.

“Our three-year logistics apprenticeship at Leeds was the first of its kind,” says Hazel Elderkin, Unilever’s UK and Ireland project manager of engineering development. “Our apprenticeship framework means apprentices feel confident they’re getting a nationally recognised qualification, while we can be equally secure our new employees have the right skills for the role and can hit the ground running when the apprenticeship is complete.”

In Jamie Oliver’s famous Fifteen apprenticeship programme, apprentices are encouraged to work elsewhere with ambassadors in other restaurants at the end of the 12-month training programme.

“After a few years’ experience, many graduates want to come back and work at Fifteen to support the training and development of the next generation of chefs,” says Tromie Dodd, Fifteen’s apprentice programme manager. “This brings an amazing vibrancy to Fifteen.”

Experts agree that when it comes to finding out which programme is right for you, the key is to do your homework.

“Do research to find out what makes a good apprenticeship programme so that you can get it right the first time,” Ms Elderkin says. “It’s worth investing time in planning, and only starting the programme once you’re fully confident that it meets the business needs and has the necessary support from colleagues.” 

Ultimately, ensuring that an apprenticeship is a success is about committing time, resources and talent.

“The key to giving apprentices the best experience is by regularly reviewing their development journey, understanding what is working well and what needs improvement, and giving feedback to the apprentices while they’re still learning,” Ms Elderkin concludes. “Be prepared that offering apprenticeships requires time and effort, but the payback – or rather, the pay forward – is well worth it.”


Help for jobless areas

Areas of unemployment are seeing apprenticeships help jobless people back into work and improve prospects for youngsters.

In Bradford, the city’s Apprenticeship Challenge – to create 100 new apprenticeship places in 100 days – finishes today. The challenge has been taken up by businesses, including Leeds Bradford International Airport, which is offering apprenticeships in air traffic engineering and motor transport. A social enterprise Enable2, which helps train people living in disadvantaged communities, is also taking part.

In Manchester, the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has committed to set up a City Apprenticeship and Skills Hub to increase the number of apprenticeships for 16-24 year olds by 10 per cent to 6,000 by directing funding to employers, particularly small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that take on apprentices.

In Southampton, Solent’s LEP is working to fill the skills gap in the area by creating an apprenticeships training agency service to link job seekers and employers. By this summer, the aim is to have placed 60 young people in apprenticeships with local SMEs.

An aircraft maintenance apprentice training centre at Southend Airport, which opened in 2010, has created jobs and developed local economic growth at the same time as nurturing a new generation of skilled professionals for the aerospace industry.