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How a small business can get the most out of apprentices

By Rachel Taylor, employer engagement manager with apprenticeship provider Step Forward

  
New funding arrangements and the Apprenticeship Levy, which came into force in April, have revamped apprenticeships and made them a much more attractive alternative for both small firms looking to hire and school-leavers wanting to enter the job ladder.

Apprenticeships are also now much more varied, and cover such subjects as accountancy, digital marketing, programming and business administration, so they are now very suitable for office and professional roles.


For 98 per cent of English employers the Government pays for 90 per cent of training costs. Combined with an apprenticeship minimum wage of £3.50 per hour (although most organisations like to pay more), it proves to be a very cost-effective solution for SMEs seeking to hire young talent.

Hiring an apprentice who is coming straight from school is very different to taking on a graduate or even a university intern, and there is a lot of structure around apprentices to ensure a great outcome for both small businesses and the young person.


The following tips will help small firms get the most out of any apprenticeships they offer:

Think carefully about their role
An apprentice must spend at least one-fifth of their time in training so make sure it’s realistic to allow them to study one day per week. The big advantage to this is that they will come back each week bursting with fresh ideas and motivation.

Consider how you could support them
Think thoroughly about how you will be able to support them in the workplace, with both their studies and long-term development. Investing in the right apprentices will provide you with a sustainable pipeline of young talent.

Invest time in their development
It is not a case of leaving them to get on with it. They need support and mentoring from you or a suitable employee, and not the office grump! We find that the more time managers invest in apprentice, the better the outcome for both. Having a weekly one-hour meeting to discuss the business, the job and anything else works well for many businesses. 


Give them structured tasks to do
Make the role quite dynamic and have plenty of things for the apprentice to get involved with. The apprentice needs to be well managed with a very structured approach. Remember they are new to the work environment: it is very different to having a graduate.

Consider taking on several apprentices
Training two apprentices does not take up much more time than training one, and it allows the apprentices to form a bond with someone of their own age that they can relate to as they transition from school to the workplace. They can also collaborate with each other, helping them to solve problems and quickly complete tasks.