Apprenticeships are on the minds of employers all over the country – especially as the apprenticeship levy comes into effect next year.
But the question is, how do employers view apprentices?
Some companies may think of them as part of CSR – a way to give back and tick a box.
Others may see apprentices as a source of low-cost labour, offsetting the cost of the new living wage.
But the smart companies will see apprentices as a key part of their future success, and a way to bring in fresh talent. Instead of seeing apprentices as an obligation, employers can see them as an opportunity to fill skills gaps and improve productivity.
The truth is, employers won’t fully realise those productivity benefits unless they’re offering high-quality apprenticeship programmes.
We asked employers on our Industry Skills Board, from companies like Microsoft, National Grid and Barclays, to identify the key elements of a quality apprenticeship.
It may seem obvious, but like any other job, apprenticeship roles need to be worthwhile to the organisation. This means alignment between vacancies and apprenticeships, so apprentices are filling a specific need, not just arriving as an extra pair of hands.
And just like any other staff member, apprentices should attend an induction when they join which helps them understand how they will be supported, what’s expected and how they fit into the organisation.
All apprentices should have a dedicated manager and mentor who can provide guidance throughout the apprenticeship. If an apprentice knows how they are performing, they will know what they need to do to improve.
Companies should also strive to give apprentices a ‘voice’ in the company, which shows apprentices that they are valued. For example, Microsoft has a system where they choose 50 ‘top apprentices’ who feedback on the programme each year, helping to improve it.
Each apprenticeship should have a clear framework and, ideally, lead to a career within or outside the company. We did some research into return on investment on apprentices and on average, an apprenticeship delivers around £10,000 in productivity benefits. But, in every sector, the longer you retain that qualified apprentice – the more return you get from them. So it’s important to plan in advance what happens at the end of the apprenticeship.
If employers get the quality right, their companies will reap the long-term benefits.
Read more in the City and Guilds report ‘Making Apprenticeships Work’.