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Fiona Harwood

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Apprenticeships: Dispelling the myths


Fiona Harwood has seen the benefits that apprenticeship programmes can bring to a business. Here, she dispels some of the myths that surround apprenticeships to encourage SMEs to get involved.

The education and training landscape is changing. Factors such as rising university tuition fees, youth unemployment and skill shortages in certain sectors are causing organisations to look closely at their recruitment programmes to determine the most efficient and effective method of finding and employing staff.

Apprenticeships in particular have been put in the spotlight with the government investing more money into helping employers take on their own apprentice. But are these incentives working? Research released by Barclays earlier in the year showed that small businesses are half as likely to take on an apprentice in 2013 compared with large organisations (19% compared with 41%). This is concerning.

Apprenticeship programmes targeted at young people and school leavers have the potential to change an organisation for the better. Bringing on young talent gives an organisation the chance to develop an individual’s skills to fit the needs and ethos of the business. Apprentices bring a willingness to learn, and an enthusiasm that other recruits may not necessarily possess. Additionally, the Centre for Economics and Business Research has shown that companies with an apprentice gain £214 per week in productivity boost.

"Apprenticeship programmes targeted at young people and school leavers have the potential to change an organisation for the better."

So why aren’t more SMEs capitalising on this opportunity? The main barrier that is preventing small businesses from getting involved is the fear of time it takes to set up an apprenticeship programme and the additional support that the individual would need. In particular, 39% of smaller companies cite red tape as the most significant barrier.

With this in mind, here are some unknown truths that small businesses need to be aware of. 

Size doesn’t matter

We have 46 staff in total. Like many businesses we’re large enough to give our apprentices a variety of experience, but small enough to support and monitor their progress closely as individuals. It's important to be able to vary the training to match the skill set of the individual and recognise that one structure does not suit all. When dealing with young people we have learned that they develop and mature at different rates but their enthusiasm is a constant.

The right mentor makes the world of difference

Finding the right mentor is essential and can determine the success of your apprenticeship programme and apprentice. Pair up your apprentices with more experienced trainees and managers and partners so they can constructively discuss their projects and the theory they are learning in the classroom directly in the workplace from day one. As they progress, they are continually challenged to learn, improve and take on additional responsibility. They are the potential future managers and partners of the firm so they are motivated and encouraged by all members of staff to succeed.

Support is available

The National Apprenticeship Service offers a step-by-step guide that helps businesses to connect with training providers, advertise vacancies and find the right candidates for their programme. Businesses of less than 1000 staff also have the opportunity to access a £1500 grant when taking on their first apprentice aged 16-24.

It’s worth the investment

The AAT qualification gives staff the right foundations needed for our industry. It’s important that all trainees and apprentices start at the same level to gain these foundations before progressing to further qualifications. Career progression within the business is dependent on both progression through qualifications and the application of those skills in the workplace. Develop staff with the practical experience and skills that match the needs of your business and clients; in the longer term this makes for a more efficient and effective workforce.

Fiona Harwood, HR Manager at Fiander Tovell LLP


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