Top tips to getting the best results from an apprentice scheme

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To close our coverage of apprenticeship week (6-10 Feb), Sue Skinner reveals what she will be thinking about as her company launches its 2012 programme and shares her tips to making an apprentice scheme work for businesses of all sizes.

Think about the business benefits

One of the major benefits of investing in an apprenticeship scheme is that it tailors their experience to your needs. In addition, you can train people in skills that may be lacking in the market and developing them on-site means that you align them closely to your business's way of working. As well as attracting new recruits, apprenticeships can also be promoted as opening up a new career path to existing employees, increasing staff motivation and retention.

Take time to recruit the right people

Before this, however, you need to think about what type of candidate will help take the business forward. It is more important than ever to attract the right individuals. Look for a willingness to take responsibility, a desire to progress and a sense of loyalty. Make sure that candidates have researched the market as well as your business, knowing exactly why they want to work for you. Finding people who have the potential to progress through the company means that, one day, they could end up running it.

Mix it up

Think about the mixture of on- and off-the-job learning that you offer, making sure apprentices learn the skills that will work best for your business. Remember that they can also help you develop the specialist skills you need to keep pace with the latest technology and working practices in your sector.

Be clear about what's expected

Set out the requirements of the programme, both academically and on the job. Agree with the apprentice that they feel able to take on this responsibility. Make sure they know to ask questions if they are unsure of anything, and provide a defined support network of people they can turn to, should they need to.

Motivate your workforce

Apprentices tend to be eager, motivated, flexible and loyal to the company that invests in them. They want to work with you. Make sure you continue to give them reasons to want to do so, including different activities and modules within the programme and providing exposure to different areas and people within the business.

Take an interest in your apprentices' progress

Personal support is essential to ensure they are happy and coping with their new work and study commitments. It can be very challenging as young people enter new roles at the same time as undertaking new academic studies. With this in mind, we appoint technical buddies, business mentors, provide access to networks of people in similar situations, and have regular development days and social events where apprentices are encouraged to share their experiences in an informal environment. Failing to support your apprentices can risk you losing them, and your investment.

Remember it's a job

Apprentices have the same rights and responsibilities as other employees - don't ever think of them as just a low-cost option. Make sure those who meet your performance expectations have a job at the end of the programme and a career plan for ways they can fit into the business moving forwards. Letting an apprentice go at the end of their training sends a poor message about how your business values its people; it’s a two-way investment of time and commitment.

Evaluate

Make sure there are clear milestones to be achieved over the course of the programme. That way the apprentices feel a sense of achievement as they tick different successes off and they'll remain excited about what they are learning. You can also be certain that they are developing, learning the skills and qualities which will be a real benefit for your business in the future.

Don't stop when the training stops

The Warwick Institute of Employment Research shows that the time required for employers to recoup their investment is between two and three years. Keep checking in with the employees, making sure they continue to be happy and inspired. Monitor the work they are contributing to and you will see first-hand the positive investment which they have brought to the business.
Sue Skinner is Britvic's HR delivery director

About Sue Skinner

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