Apprenticeships: Are they useful for business?

Terry Irwin
Managing Director
TCii Strategic and Management Consultants
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Just before Christmas, the Government’s Business, Innovation and Skills Committee announced that it would conduct an inquiry into apprenticeships. This inquiry will look into the effectiveness of the National Apprenticeship service which was launched in 2009, and whether apprenticeships currently deliver high enough value for apprentices and businesses.

The inquiry will also examine  funding arrangements and other issues.

The recent unexpected resignations of the heads of two of the governmental organisations responsible for apprenticeship schemes in the UK (Geoff Russell of the Skills Funding Agency and Simon Waugh of the National Apprenticeship Service) has also drawn further attention to the issue of apprenticeships. The resignations come at a time when the Skills Funding Agency has been accused of allowing public money to be misused by training providers.

The inquiry is due to begin next month, but just how useful are apprenticeships to UK businesses, and what are the benefits and drawbacks of taking on one or more apprentices?

Advantages  for businesses taking on apprentices

•    Filling skills gaps – Bringing young inexperienced people in and training them according to the present and future needs of your company can help you to develop the in-house skills that your organisation needs to thrive and evolve to meet new challenges.

•    Cost effectiveness – Often the overall long-term cost of training an apprentice to a high standard can be far less than hiring already skilled staff. This financial incentive for hiring apprentices is boosted further by government subsidy schemes, such as the Small Employer Incentive which is due to “be available to small firms in all industries and for apprenticeships at all levels from April 2012.” More info on the Incentive can be found at http://www.apprenticeships.org.uk/Employers/Steps-to-make-it-happen/Ince....

•    Enthusiasm – In many cases apprentices are particularly hard-working and productive as they are eager to please and to make a good impression. Clearly this may not always be the case, but contrast this with someone who has been in the same job for thirty years and feels they no longer need to put in as much effort to prove their worth.

•    Building relationships from the ground up – By taking on a young or inexperienced person and helping them to develop professionally, it is possible to build strong working relationships that may endure for a long time. This is especially true and important for skills-dependent businesses with relatively few employees.

Disadvantages of taking on apprentices

•    Risk – With any apprenticeship there is always a risk that the apprentice will not finish the training period, either because they turn out be not suitable for the role, have a lack of discipline or enthusiasm, or because of other unforeseen circumstances. Another risk is that they may depart the company, possibly to work for a competitor, shortly after completing their apprenticeship.

•    Potential for mistakes – Taking on inexperienced trainees may inevitably lead to a higher proportion of mistakes in everyday tasks, potentially resulting in lost productivity or even financial losses.

•    Resources – In order to take on an apprentice you must of course have sufficient spare man-power and resources to provide their training, and for some smaller firms this may be an obstacle to taking on an apprentice.

 

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15th Feb 2012 13:52

My company has trained over 100 apprentices which culminated in us being shortlisted for the Large Apprenticeship Employer of the Year in 2011. We have nothing but praise for the National Apprenticeship Service and our apprenticeship provider.

Whilst our experience has been a positive one, I am aware that there have been firms who have not enjoyed such an experience. I feel that our success has largely been down to the commitment shown from the very top of our business aswell as our excellent provider.

The disadvantages that the author of the article highlights could equally apply to any new employee, whether they are recruited via an apprenticeship or another route.

The reference to Simon Waugh's resignation may be a bit of red herring. I attended a presentation at the Houses of Parliament a fortnight ago and Simon informed the audience that he was resigning because of an illness of a close member of his family. 

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