10 reasons to hire an apprentice

5 March 2018

To mark National Apprenticeship Week, we asked a variety of businesses why they hired apprentices – and what benefits they’ve seen since

Learning from the experience of CBI members, here’s 10 compelling reasons why you should consider hiring an apprentice too.

1. Close the skills gap

With four in five businesses concerned about skills gaps, according to the latest CBI/Pertemps Education and Skills Survey, apprenticeships are one way for firms to match available talent with the specific skills they need.

Take the shortage in digital talent. When Capgemini realised that the digital skills gap was having an impact on its business – and its clients – back in 2011, it decided to develop an apprenticeship programme in response. It also launched the first Degree Apprenticeship in Digital and Technology Solutions in 2015.

It enables us to grow our own technologists of the future

“It enables us to grow our own technologists of the future,” says Ruth South, the company’s Head of Graduate & Apprentice Programmes.

With ambitions to be a £1bn digitally enabled business, Manchester head-quartered SME Travel Counsellors, has similar ideas.

“We’ve recruited several Level 3 Business Administration and Social Media & Digital Marketing Apprentices over the past couple of years to support the growth of our organisation,” says Head of HR Laura Herbert. “We’re currently looking at expanding our offering to include Level 4 Digital Technology as we’ve identified this as a key area of focus for our business – as well as offering a brilliant opportunity to develop bright young talent keen to play an active role in digital and technological transformation.”

Meanwhile, CEMEX is one of many companies having to deal a shortfall of more than 50,000 HGV drivers in the UK. Before it launched its apprenticeship scheme in 2014, it had no logistics drivers under the age of 27. In 2016, it had 18 drivers between 19 and 25, and it took on a further 18 apprentices in 2017.

Carl Milton, CEMEX’s Northern Regional Logisitcs Manager, says they’re also using the scheme to encourage more women to enter the industry.

2. Drive diversity

As at CEMEX, often the only way to really challenge large-scale skills shortages is to open up industries to a wider pool of talent – be that based on gender, age, ethnicity, social background or previous experience.

“Encouraging, inspiring and helping local women realise opportunities available in manufacturing and engineering is very important to us,” says Tricia Vincent, Training and Competency Manager at wind turbine specialist Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, where around 11 per cent of its employees in Hull are women. “We made this a feature of our recruitment for apprentices and we were not only encouraged by the interest, we were delighted to be able to offer three young females an opportunity.”

And once in the workplace, those apprentices can also help to boost the appeal of the industry among their peers. Hadlow Group’s deputy CEO Mark Lumsdon-Taylor points to the example of alumnus Emily-Jo Howarth, a former Southern Water apprentice who studied at Ashford College, who now leads the apprenticeship programme for her employer.

We recognise that some very smart individuals choose not to go to university

PwC’s Student Recruitment Manager Katherine Bond also believes apprenticeships are the best way they have to help develop young talent from underprivileged backgrounds or who have English as a second language. “We also recognise that some very smart individuals choose not to go to university and we don’t want to miss out on this excellent talent pool,” she says, adding that former sports players and armed forces veterans have made good apprentices too.

And increasingly, apprenticeships are shrugging off the stereotype of only being for young talent. At Northern Gas Networks (NGN), apprentices range from 16 to 38, while energy, regeneration and facilities services group ENGIE has a number of apprentices in their 50s and 60s – taking advantage of talent among those that want to change their careers or avoid early retirement.

3. Benefit from fresh thinking

“Inquisitive and curious minds enable us as a business to progress, develop and innovate,” says Siemens Gamesa’s Vincent. “Our apprentices complete some quite complex projects that push not only their newly acquired engineering skills, but also encourage their ability to problem solve. We empower them to make suggestions on improvements and present their ideas.”

Similarly, at NGN – where the Chief Executive started out as an apprentice – learning and development specialist Alexandra Willans says that the fresh thinking that comes from apprentices drives some of the most tangible outcomes from its apprenticeship programme.

I know they're still learning but they'll offer ideas and are keen to do so

“From very early on we’ll make sure they are aware of our innovation processes, what that means for them and what they can bring,” she says. “I know they’re still learning but they’ll offer ideas and are keen to do so.”

And at Manchester Airport, Press Office Manager Seb Thompson, has found his whole team benefits from having a social media apprentice: “It has made a real difference and brought a new perspective that you don’t get through the normal recruitment process. They are totally immersed in the digital world. And as they learn and develop with their qualification we have seen them bring in a wealth of innovative ideas and trends so the whole team actually ends up learning something new.”

4. Boost retention – and commitment

Despite its challenges, the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy is designed not just to encourage more firms to hire apprentices, but also to increase the use of apprenticeships as a way to develop existing staff. And as Martin Hickerton, Partnerships Development Manager at University of Lincoln, says: “Training and development is a brilliant way to help reduce attrition rates. If good people feel invested and valued, it helps them stay within the business.”

It also helps to reduce absenteeism. Jacqui Kawczak, Apprentice Delivery Manager at United Utilities, points to research it has done that suggests its apprentices are 50 per cent less likely to take sick days than other employees. 

The commitment apprentices give to their business could lead to a greater return on investment

More than half of those who offer apprenticeships say apprentices stay in the business longer than other recruits, says Travel Counsellors’ Herbert, citing a recent government survey. “That demonstrates that the commitment apprentices give to their businesses could lead to a greater return on investment and a potential competitive advantage.”

And as another sign of apprentices’ commitment, nearly two-thirds of Capgemini’s first cohort of degree apprentices achieved a first-class on graduation, more than double the on-campus average.

5. Improve productivity

Commitment is just one of the ingredients that helps boost productivity. Training employees in latest skills and qualifications will also do the trick.

According to research by the National Apprenticeship Service, 86 per cent of employers said apprenticeships developed skills relevant to their organisation and 78 per cent reported improved productivity.

78% of employers reported improved productivity

Alongside the latest industry knowledge, apprentices also access up-to-date technology that could help your business become more efficient and competitive, says Suzan McGladdery, Director of Business Development at Barnsley College.

And as more firms try to respond to new ways of working, James Whybrow, Vice Principal, Partnerships, Apprenticeships and Enterprise at Nottingham College, notes that apprenticeships can be used to nurture existing staff into new roles within the business.

6. Develop your senior talent

The Apprenticeship Levy has opened up apprenticeships at degree level – and the University of Lincoln’s Hickerton says this could be a real game-changer for developing senior talent.

The university has worked with the Lincolnshire Co-op, for example, to tailor its Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship.

“The managers could be brilliant technical specialists, but they have never actually had that official leadership management training or academic input that could provide them with good foundations for the future.”

Other future leaders might be interested in a Masters Degree, he adds, and many of these participants are in a position to make business improvements at the same time as they learn.

7. Secure your business for the future 

According to Andrew Hartley, Commercial Director at Sheffield College, many SMEs become interested in apprenticeships when they are thinking about expansion – or succession planning. They see apprenticeships as a very effective and affordable way to train and develop new talent, or to pass on the required knowledge to their family members.

And in larger companies too, apprentices can play a key role in the success of your business – both now and into the future.

We spot talent early on and it's generally through those schemes - because we're nuturing them

Apprenticeship schemes can – and should – live alongside future leader programmes, says United Utilities’ Kawczak, adding that the company likes to move its best candidates through the different apprenticeship levels.

“We spot talent early on and it’s generally through those schemes – because we’re nurturing them,” she explains. 

“Innovative science has the potential to transform the lives of patients around the world – and this is only possible by identifying and developing the next generation of research scientists,” says Adam Isle, AstraZeneca’s Graduate Programme Manager.

From day one, its apprentices are hands-on in the labs, “actively contributing to the project teams accelerating the process of drug discovery”, he adds.

8. Contribute to your local community – and the health of UK plc

As CBI vice-president John Allan told Business Voice: “Trust in business is much more about what business does than what business says – and helping young people get into work is much more relevant to people than businesses publishing statistics on how much tax they pay.”

Travel Counsellors’ Herbert agrees: “Our apprenticeship programmes demonstrates our commitment to our local community that we are a responsible employer, keen to provide employment and development opportunities to local young people.”

We are building talent and benefitting UK plc

And Nikki Flanders, Chief Operating Officer at Opus Energy, takes it one step further: “As business leaders we need to grow a better UK plc – foster talent, invest in it and provide infrastructure to enable future leaders.”

More than 50 per cent of Opus’ apprentices have stayed with the company, but importantly she doesn’t see that as a 50 per cent failure rate. “We are building talent and benefiting UK plc.”

9. Boost your reputation

And when there’s so much competition for talent, gaining a reputation for investing in staff helps to build a strong brand image, explains Barnsley College’s McGladdery.

“Our scheme has had a great impact on our reputation,” agrees Capgemini’s South. “We are recognised as being trailblazers and leading the way with our approach, which we constantly revise and improve.”

10. Use – don’t lose – your Apprenticeship Levy contribution

If you have a payroll of £3m or more, you will be making levy payments via your digital account. Employers have been given 18 months to spend each payment, before losing those funds – and the opportunity for the 10 per cent government top-up too.  

This is a once in a generation chance to overhaul training and development

"When you see how much is going into your digital account, you can see that time’s ticking away and that it could be spent on developing your people,” adds Lincoln University’s Hickerton.

“But we’re really keen to say at the university that this isn’t just about the levy. It’s bigger than that. This is about a once in a generation chance to really overhaul training and development – and how degrees are offered – and to bring it to people who might have missed the opportunity before.”

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