How to implement an apprenticeship strategy

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Think carefully about your needs, recruitment methods, the interview process, and qualifications

If you ask any business to identify its main business issues – or conversely its business priorities – you’ll find recruitment towards the top of the list. Getting recruitment of grass roots employees right is vital for any business, but all too often we get it wrong.

The recruitment mindset at the non-executive level is to identify a specific job role and to find someone that meets its key requirements perfectly. Inevitably there’s an element of compromise over skills or salary. And then comes onboarding. But in as many as 50% of cases the relationship fails and the employee leaves or is dismissed within a few months. And repeat.

An alternative to this recruitment failure cycle is to recruit beneath the level of employee you need and then train them into the role. This means creating a journey for the individual you choose to hire; taking them from novice to skilled while aligning them with your corporate values.

Step forward the 18- to 24-year-old apprentice. It can be easier to introduce them to your desired way of working when they have no previous employment history. They come with little baggage and no benchmark – which means you can show them the right way to work and they will be more responsive.

So what should you apprenticeship strategy look like? Initially you need to do some groundwork.

Firstly define your recruitment needs. Since you can employ school leavers with GCSEs or higher-level apprentices that are at degree level you must still establish the required skills and experience for your roles.

How the apprenticeship roles are defined will influence how your onboarding and training programme should look. Will you implement your own off-the-job training or introduce a third party – such as a college? Will there be a qualification at the end of this training?

Qualifications are not necessarily a remit of an apprentice programme, because a test of skills and knowledge is enough for an awarding organisation to offer. Any ‘test’ (albeit necessary) introduces the danger of short-termism into your programme, so that once the apprentice has completed their test you think they’re 'trained'. You should be taking a long-term view so that the apprentice learns consistently through and beyond their apprenticeship, becoming a productive asset to the business.

This may influence your choice of provider. In truth, choosing this partner is as much about them being aligned with your values as the apprentice. In all circumstances you must agree an SLA with them.

Then decide if you want to recruit your apprentice directly – such as through ads or engaging with schools – or through a relevant agency. You will have to shortlist and interview the candidates, and prepare a plan for this. Remember that younger people without corporate ‘baggage’ have energy and ideas. Embrace this and ensure your interview and subsequent onboarding account for it.

An interview with younger people should look less formal than your usual interview. Trash the idea of competencies and focus on enthusiasm, innovation, attitude, aptitude and cognitive skills.

One myth to dispel is that an apprentice is a school leaver. An adult apprenticeship can be taken up by anyone that is prepared to work. It may surprise you to learn that there are apprentices in the UK in their 70s. The funding arrangements will be different, but this does mean that for certain job roles you can look at individuals with relevant experience or life skills. You can also use an adult apprenticeship to inject diversity into your workforce.

Congratulations. You now have a productive long-term employee!

Debbie Mawer is director of people and culture at Claims Consortium Group

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