09/03/2015

By Emma Wharton, Group head of HR for Sofa Brands International


An apprenticeship scheme is without a doubt a great investment for any business and one we really embrace at Sofa Brands International. Increased employee loyalty and retention are just two of the advantages. However, before embarking on your own, it is important to understand what it takes to run your own successful scheme.

We’ve been running our apprenticeship scheme for four years now, and during that time we have welcomed 15 apprentices through our doors, all of whom still work within the business. During the past four years, we’ve learnt a lot about running a successful apprenticeship scheme and this has been recognised outside the business: In 2013, one of our apprentices was invited to the House of Lords to talk about his experiences of being an apprentice. This year, another of our apprentices has been nominated for the prestigious ‘Apprentice of the Year’ and ‘Rising Star’ awards at the Enterprising Women and Integra Awards 2015.

There are many benefits of taking on apprentices, but below are just five reasons for starting your own scheme:

1. The cultural benefits – research has shown that implementing an apprenticeship scheme increases job satisfaction. This is because more experienced employees play a vital role in passing their knowledge onto apprentices, building personal pride and cementing their pride in the business. All of this results in reduced staff turnover.

2. The business benefits - from an employer’s perspective, as apprentices tend to enter a company at entry level, they are a more affordable investment than other employees. Advertising for apprenticeship vacancies is also more affordable than for other employees as companies can publish adverts for free on the National Apprentice website.

3. A source of motivation – apprenticeships can be a source of motivation for young people, especially in an era of high unemployment. They provide the opportunity to earn and learn –giving young people business experience that will prove invaluable.

4. Nurturing the next generation – apprenticeships can help to overcome the skills mismatch that exists in the UK, whereby skills gaps in various sectors result in many job vacancies remaining unfilled. They also allow local businesses to take responsibility for nurturing local talent and supporting regional employment.

5. Government grants - the UK government has significantly increased subsidised workplace training. Grants of £1,500 are often available to small businesses, with the aim of enabling them to take on apprentices.

I believe that there are a handful of elements which, when brought together, will guarantee a successful apprenticeship programme.

Seek clarity

Before you decide to start your own scheme, do your research. You may already be aware of apprenticeship schemes in your sector but be sure to really understand all the key elements, and the day to day work that goes into running one.

The time and effort required to run an apprenticeship programme should not be underestimated. That being said, these are outweighed by the many benefits such as increased employee loyalty and retention.

A good place to start is the Government website: https://www.gov.uk/further-education-skills/apprenticeships

Long-term strategy

Apprenticeships need to be a part of the long term business strategy and be consistent in the approach to workforce growth and skills development. Apprenticeship schemes can’t be created in a silo, there must be buy in and support from throughout the business, because although management may implement the scheme, its quality, success and longevity depend on those employees who will be guiding and teaching the apprentices each day. Without their support, your business can’t deliver high-quality on-the-job training that your apprentices need in order to be able to develop their skills and knowledge.

Put the apprentices at the heart

One of the most important things to remember is that the business’s role is to provide clarity and support to apprentices. It is important for an apprentice to understand that their role and contribution within your organisation is valued and not underestimated. To do their job well, they need a clear outline of expectations and scheduled check-ins to remain on track.

On the other hand, however, the business provides apprentices with a safe and supportive environment to learn and develop. Encourage them to take ownership of their own development by driving their own performance targets, seeking regular feedback and assessing their own performance at regular intervals.

And finally remember, recruiting an apprentice may mean your business has to deviate from its usual procedure - make sure you take this into account. By deciding to become an apprentice, each person is actively choosing to learn on the job and a committing to a specific career. Look for individuals with a passion for your industry and a hunger to learn.

Your responsibility

Apprenticeship programmes must be developed according to each individual’s interests and ambitions, however they are done so primarily for the business and whatever scheme you put in place must meet your business needs. The training that apprentices receive on and off site must be high quality and with this in mind. Your apprentices should feel encouraged to grow and develop with the business, whilst feeling supported to find areas of the business they are really passionate about.