The most effective ways to utilise apprentices in small businesses


You know the process to hire an apprentice, details around the new Apprenticeship Levy, and how to go about selecting a training provider. However, once you have the apprentice in your hands, how do you best utilise them?

Right now, you might have an apprentice working their way through a to-do list or in the kitchen making drinks, by taking on an individual you are also taking on their future prospects as well as the responsibility to handle their on-the-job training aspects of the qualification they’re pursuing. Without taking a detailed and studious approach to setting out a work plan which mixes business-side work with apprenticeship studies it can become strenuous maintaining a healthy relationship between employer and apprentice. The quickest way to ensure an apprentice loses motivation and enthusiasm for their qualification is to alienate them from the office with tasks above their experience level, or indeed below. For a new starter in an unfamiliar environment the feeling of hopelessness is a sure-fire way to push them away from contributing in a meaningful way. Without the necessary experience and qualifications that a typical new employee would possess when entering a role you will always have to remember that an apprentice is starting at ground zero. As a company in a partnership with the apprentice, it’s up to you to gradually include the apprentice with work of a higher importance.  They’re an investment in your future together.At Professional Academy we offer a number of apprenticeships in a variety of sectors, here are a number of ways to ensure both you and your apprentice gain the best out of an apprenticeship:

Identify skill gaps before choosing an apprentice

Every company in the world has their own unique skills gap which needs to be plugged at any given time. The lack of digital skills is still impacting businesses internationally and remains just one of many skills gaps that currently exist in the talent pool. As a business that’s looking to bring in an apprentice it’s important to select a candidate who is pursuing a qualification which will help you out in the long run. Although there’s no way of knowing what position you’ll be in in a year’s time, proactively looking at current gaps in knowledge is the only way to adapt to the changing demands of the workplace.

Treat apprentices as an investment, not a quick fix

Without the levels of experience a ‘full-time’ employee holds it’s impractical to assume an apprentice has the capability to instantly change your business. The truth is you’re making an investment in their future which can come back around to boost business activities in a year or two’s time.A reportfrom the Department for Education this year shows 74 per cent of SMEs that employ apprentices saw increased productivity levels and 96 per cent saw benefits arising directly from the hiring of an apprentice. Clearly there is a certain level of short-term payback but the real results come later.

Work with them to develop a plan of action

Particularly important during the initial few weeks of an apprenticeship is to develop a work plan with the apprentice, ensuring they remain on track and aren’t left in the wilderness when it comes to asking for work. Taking into account the days where a training provider will be delivering the out-of-office learning aspects of the qualification allows you to maintain a healthy workflow that suits the apprentice and doesn’t interfere with the required independent studies.To begin with, work out what the individual is comfortable with carrying out, don’t place too much pressure on their shoulders, as time passes and they become more confident and trained, gradually increase their work in terms of amount and responsibility.

Don’t ignore the older learners

It’s easy to forget that apprenticeships aren’t solely for young people at the start of their working life; in fact anyone can become an apprentice. The latest report from the Office for National Statistics shows an even split of ages; 56 per cent of all apprentices during 15/16 were aged between 16 and 24 with 44 per cent over the age of 25.Nothing is stopping an existing employee from deciding to up skill and earn new qualifications while continuing to work. Allowing these individuals to achieve these can not only allow the individual to grow but it also allows you as a business to take advantage of the newly acquired skills while garnering loyalty.

As a small business, don’t take what you can’t manage

An important aspect for all businesses but especially for SMEs, don’t take on an apprentice if you don’t have the time to deal with them. Just as you are placing responsibility on them they’re also relying on you to help deliver an attractive working environment and plenty of support during their time with you. If you’re doubting your ability to dedicate time guiding them in certain tasks or don’t feel that any members of staff could be given the duty of helping them, don’t accept a placement. As you enter the process of hiring you shouldn’t be looking for an extra hand to help out, you should be looking for someone that has potential.The impact of apprentices in the workplace differs from one industry to the next, their required skills and expected qualities will wildly swing from a desk position to an engineering qualification. It’s down to your individual businesses to provide an environment for an apprentice to thrive.When you decide to take on an apprentice bear some of these points in mind during the selection process, allocating workloads and setting periods for on-the-job learning. You’re entering into a professional partnership, one that will inevitably change the lives of the people who join you in your company and can, with time, push you to innovate and grow alongside them.Michael O’Flynn, Sales & Marketing Director at Professional Academy