Despite these perceived barriers, small business bosses must continue to create and maintain apprenticeship schemes, benefitting not just their own business, but also the local economy and people. More than ever, apprenticeships mean truly investing in an individual with a look to the future of a small business, and the implementation of a scheme is a decision that should definitely be taken into account as we move into the next financial year.
Finding an apprentice to complement the business
Knowing where to find an apprentice can seem like a daunting task. Firstly, it is important to identify the tasks that an apprentice would assist with or take control of, what positions could be held within the business and the teams the candidate could fit with. Businesses should really consider the value of offering an apprenticeship that is worthy and finding a candidate that complements the rest of the team from the outset, rather than looking for a “temporary fit” as this will always prove a better investment.
Once the role of the apprentice has been identified, the next choice comes down to whether an apprentice of any age is right for the position, or whether a younger candidate might benefit more. This is likely to be dependent on what the identified role entails, in addition to the nature of the business at hand. For example, a financial services company could be more inclined to seek a candidate with a proven numerical ability rather than someone with an aptitude for languages. Equally, some small businesses might benefit from a more mature candidate wishing to retrain in a new area, bringing the benefit of prior work experience. Ultimately, taking a new person on board will only serve to be a positive decision.
Forming a relationship with a local school or college is truly beneficial if a younger candidate is appropriate, as many colleges are keen to assist with student employment ventures, and will be able to recommend suitable candidates from within the student body. It is also important to consider alternative organisations, such as extracurricular development opportunities, which can be an excellent resource of local, untapped talent.
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Best practice for apprentices
It is crucial to remember the importance of varied exposure throughout the duration of the scheme. Ideally, a scheme would last for a period of 12 months, allowing an apprentice to undertake work in several areas of the business, in addition to completing any training modules or relevant qualifications that would be beneficial to climbing the career ladder in a particular industry. An apprentice will either be starting a new career entirely, or moving into a new direction, so undertaking different roles within a business during their employment is vital, whether this is with a core business function, or support staff such as office administration and IT, to give them a true flavour for the business as a whole.
With the National Living Wage being ever-present in the news, many potential candidates could fear that they will be used as cheap labour, rather than being treated as a true member of the team. Apprentices should be offered a meaningful apprenticeship scheme, combined with a salary in line with their age and experience, rather than being limited by a suggested minimum amount or spending 12 months conducting menial tasks such as shredding and photocopying.
What are the benefits to a business
Research from the National Audit Office has shown that for every 1 spent by a business to train an apprentice, a further 17 is paid back into the UK economy. There is a great deal of support available for small businesses to implement a scheme for businesses with fewer than 50 employees, the government can offer funding to assist with setting up an apprenticeship programme. This additional support can help an organisation to improve its bottom line, and can make an apprenticeship scheme a particularly cost-effective business decision in the long-term.
Teams in businesses of any size often suffer from a skills gap, particularly in more digital areas such as coding and social media. Hiring an apprentice provides an excellent opportunity to train an individual to bridge this gap, instead of training an existing member of staff alongside their current workload. This also means that training costs are reduced and there is no drop in efficiency, as the rest of the team will continue as usual.
Whilst finding the right candidate can be a long process once the decision has been made to hire an apprentice, the benefits to the business in the short and long term are evident. Finding the right individual will not only develop the career of a loyal member of staff, but small businesses will also gain a valuable new perspective that a new team member can bring. Apprenticeships ultimately bring profit into the business, the local economy and the wider economy as a whole, and should definitely be considered this National Apprenticeship Week.
As National Apprenticeship Week kicks off across Britain to champion the career pathway, Real Business has revealed the UK leaders whose journeys to enterprise greatness started off with apprenticeships.
Tracy Ewen is managing director at IGF Invoice Finance.