We've always had a successful apprenticeship programme and as part of Apprenticeship Week we were thrilled to announce that B&Q is aiming to double its intake to around 300 apprentices during 2010. This firm commitment recognises the benefits apprentices bring to our business.
At B&Q, we currently have 130 staff completing the first retail apprenticeship programme. Our training intake is diverse with apprentices of all ages, from 18 to 70. Similar to other businesses, our apprenticeship is a 12-month programme of learning and qualifications that employees will complete while doing their job, giving them the skills, knowledge and confidence to progress in a career in their chosen field.
In my opinion, apprentices are a sensible recruitment option as they bring innovation, a fresh spark and creativity, practical work-relevant skills and a lower staff turnover. There are over 190 types of apprenticeships, spanning most industry sectors and suitable for hundreds of job roles. At B&Q, we are not alone. Many other businesses are reaping the benefits of taking on apprentices and making a commitment to support these programmes in the future. Last year saw a 7% increase in people beginning an apprenticeship, with an impressive 240,000 starts.
B&Q has long seen the links and benefits between learning, engaged employees and, ultimately, productivity. Stores where staff are committed to learning have been found to be the best performing. As a result of our practice of training staff to the nationally recognised City and Guilds standard, customers are beginning to shop with more confidence due to the advice they are being given by staff and we also have found that our apprenticeships help us to create friendly experts in store.
Apprentices are not just restricted to large companies - they can bring benefits to businesses of all sizes, including smaller enterprises. The National Apprenticeship Service announced this week that employers can now take up the Apprentice Grant for Employers, a scheme that offers businesses a £2,500 grant for each 16 or 17 year-old apprentice taken on. It's a substantial investment - totalling of £12.5 million - that will encourage and support more small and medium-sized enterprises to take on an apprentice and access the benefits they bring.
Planning any HR strategy when we are coming out of a tough economic year is always a difficult road to tread, but I feel the future looks encouraging and bright, with apprentices at the forefront.
Liz Bell is HR director, B&Q