HR & Management

How to start an apprenticeship scheme

5 min read

19 March 2013

Lesley Nelson, Finance Manager at the Big Lottery Fund, talks us through the steps and considerations employers need to take when starting an apprenticeship scheme.

Every year, the Big Lottery Fund gives out millions of pounds from the National Lottery to community groups and projects that improve health, education and the environment. Naturally, finance is a huge part of what we do.     

We have approximately 1,000 employees based across the UK, including 23 people within the finance department who we actively encourage to gain formal qualifications. Over recent years, we’ve developed a finance apprenticeship scheme as a way to grow our own talent in combination with AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) and Kaplan.

Our scheme was piloted in 2010 when we took on one apprentice and since then we’ve taken on two finance apprentices each year. More importantly, with the government investing more support into apprenticeship schemes, the training of our apprentices was completely funded.

Along the way, we’ve learned that there are basic guidelines and things to remember when implementing a scheme such as this.

Find the right qualification

Spend time investing in the right qualification so you can be sure your staff will come out with the right knowledge and skills to do the job.

We put our apprentices through the AAT Accounting Qualification as it provides students with a good, in-depth knowledge of finance. Through their studies, they are constantly given ways to implement their learning in the workplace – which means we see results.

Primarily, the apprentices begin their time at Big Lottery Fund, working within the transactional team – purchase ledger type roles. Within these roles and with the knowledge and skills they acquire from their AAT studies, they are then well placed for promotion.

Find the right training provider

An apprenticeship programme is a three way partnership between your organisation, your apprentice and their training provider. Finding the right training provider is crucial. It will determine if your apprentices study part-time, online or via distance learning. It will also determine how involved you, as an employer, will be. Needless to say, the more involved you are and the more open the lines of communication, the better. 

Not only do the apprentices need support from you as an employer, they also need support from their training provider. Consider the factors that add value to the learning experience, such as extra study tools, flexible classes and assessments as they could make all the difference.

Make the investment

Taking on an apprentice means you are taking responsibility for their career development. You need to ensure you put the proper measures and support in place to ensure a successful programme for all involved.

Invest in your apprenticeship programme by:

  • Familiarising yourself with all of the appropriate information – including study leave requirements, apprenticeship wages and funding;
  • Implementing a mentor system to ensure your apprentice is nurtured, supported and trained effectively; and
  • Planning appropriate evaluation methods so you can demonstrate how you’ve shaped your apprentices into more productive and experienced workers.

Reap the benefits

Implementing our own apprenticeship scheme has meant that we haven’t had to recruit externally for roles other than first level roles within the transactional team. This means that staff who have been promoted do not require lengthy inductions as they already have knowledge of systems and processes. So, they’re productive in their new roles quicker than the norm.

Our apprenticeship programme has also brought younger people into the organisation that we previously wouldn’t have considered. In the past, we recruited people aged 21 and over, many of whom were graduates. Now, we recruit school-leavers as well as graduates.

It’s understandable that some businesses would be wary of hiring school-leavers but the interview process will allow you to find individuals with the right attributes that you, as an organisation, can build on – growing talent from within.

From our experiences, school leavers have added a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the department. We get the chance to mould them to our organisation and teach them the values and ethos we value most.

Lesley Nelson is finance manager at the Big Lottery Fund.