Apprenticeship programmes are good for business

Small Business Guides

6 min read

Apprenticeship programmes can give your business access to new talent, help you build a skilled, motivated workforce – and improve society at the same time. Here's what you need to know about hiring an apprentice.

What is an apprentice?

Apprentices are young people who want to combine real work experience with ongoing education. For example, they might work for four days a week but attend college on the fifth day. They work in companies that understand the benefits of these arrangements.

This is a growing area of business recruitment. For example, in the UK the number of apprenticeship vacancies has increased by more than 25 percent annually, with corresponding growth in the number of young people applying to be one.

It's a common form of employment in Germany too, where roughly two-thirds of secondary school graduates go through apprenticeships. And the idea is spreading worldwide.

In this guide we'll look at why this form of employment is becoming more popular, and how it can benefit your business.

A tough employment environment

Youth unemployment is a growing issue around the world. Reasons for this include the aftermath of the recent global recession, and lower-paid jobs being automated or moved to other countries.

That leaves young people in an unfortunate catch-22 situation. They need experience in order to gain employment, but they need employment in order to gain experience.

Their motivation can also be affected. For example, over 65 percent of young adults in the US do not successfully complete a college education. With less chance of a job at the end of it, many young people question the value of further education. This all has negative effects on society and the economy.

Apprenticeships offer young people a way out of this trap – and businesses can benefit too.

So what's in it for your business?

Why would you hire someone young and inexperienced? There are several good reasons for hiring an apprentice:

  • Enthusiasm
    They tend to be keen and willing to learn. They understand the harsh realities of the job market and they are making a real effort to advance their careers. That type of attitude is exactly what employers are looking for.
  • Fresh perspective
    Once you've run a business for a few years, your perspective changes. Your view of the world, and the marketplace in which you operate, is coloured by your position in it. Young people can see your business from a different perspective, and they can bring fresh new ideas into your company.
  • Social good
    By hiring an apprentice you're helping to reduce the youth unemployment problem and give something back to society.
  • A clean slate
    Apprentices who haven't worked in other businesses are unlikely to have picked up bad habits. This means you it’s easier to train them to work well in your business, without them having to 'unlearn' what they already know.
  • Cost
    This should never be the main consideration, but hiring an apprentice is cheaper than hiring a full-time staff member. So if things don't work out, you won't lose too much money. In addition, grants are sometimes available to encourage companies to take on apprentices.

What's in it for the apprentice?

Few employers are willing to take on young staff with no experience. That's especially true for small businesses, where the profit margin is narrow. If the new hire makes a major mistake or doesn't live up to the job, the employer could lose a lot of money.

Apprenticeships are youth employment programmes that can help bridge this gap, giving the person a head start. They gain experience in a real working environment, which they can then use to apply for a full-time, fully-paid job. And if it all goes well, their new job could be in your company.

Also, the apprentice is paid for their time. The wages are usually low, but enough to cover food and lodgings. This means they don’t have to choose between education and employment – they can do both.

Getting the best out of an apprentice means treating them as you would any other employee – with respect.

Five ways to find the right apprentice

Although you could set up an apprenticeship scheme on your own, there are organisations already in place to help you find apprentices for your business. Start with these:

  1. Business advice office
    There will probably be business advisors in your area, and these will have contact with educational institutions. Ask them for advice about this.
  2. Local council
    Councils have a responsibility to manage local education, including apprenticeships. Ask for information about what they offer.
  3. Local schools or colleges
    Sometimes educational institutions will arrange apprenticeships themselves, so ask them directly. Even if they don't, they'll be able to tell you what you need to know.
  4. Government websites
    Governments understand the overwhelming benefits of apprenticeships, so they're keen to promote them. Check out your government's website – there may even be funding available to help you with wages.
  5. Social media
    Ask online. The chances are you'll find someone within your extended social group who can put you in touch with the right person.

Once you think you've found someone suitable, interview them carefully. We have some tips on interview strategy in our guide about how to hire the right employees programmes.

But go easy on them – these are young adults, not experienced workers. They may not perform too well during an interview, but that doesn't mean they're not suitable.


Getting the best out of apprentices

Companies are sometimes accused of exploiting apprentices. For example, treating them as a source of cheap labour and giving them dull, tedious jobs that nobody else in the company wants to do. This is bad for the apprentice, and it's also bad for the business.

Getting the best out of an apprentice means treating them as you would any other employee – with respect. Here are some tips:

  • Pay them fairly
    Obviously you're not going to pay them the same as you would an experienced staff member. But there's no need to be mean, either. Find out the going rate and match it, at least. You'll benefit from this because they will be more motivated.
  • Support their training
    Incorporate what they learn from their education into the work you give them. That will give them practical applications for their new knowledge, and you'll gain from their training too.
  • Involve them in your business
    The more integrated someone is within your business, the faster they'll learn. That's good for them and for you. So try to assign a staff member to act as a mentor for the apprentice. The quicker they get up to speed, the better.
  • Help them find employment
    An apprentice may suit your business so well that you'll want to take them on full time eventually. But if not, help them identify other businesses where they could be employed.
  • Write references
    Once you've been in work for a while, there's a tendency to forget how important references can be. If your apprentice asks for a job reference, write it promptly, positively and fairly. It could make a big difference to their career.

Apprenticeships can be good for everyone

With the right attitude, employing young people this way can be beneficial to you, to the apprentice and to society in general. So the next time you're thinking of hiring someone new, consider taking on an apprentice.

As well as the reduction in recruitment costs and wages, you could gain from hiring someone with a fresh, new attitude and a willing approach to their work. You'll also reap the rewards of their ongoing training.

From cooking to finance, engineering to media, technology to hospitality, apprentices can fit into any business. So there's nothing stopping you hiring one – and helping society at the same time.