05/04/2014

By Chris Elliott, Co-Owner and Group Chief Operating Officer of VTL Group

We often hear from businesses who are wary about taking on apprentices – particularly small and medium sized organisations. They fear they might not have the skills needed, won’t integrate into their existing workforce and will take a huge amount of managing. My message to these businesses is not to pretend there aren’t challenges, but that there are huge opportunities as well.

Seven years ago, following the acquisition of our Yorkshire based manufacturing business, we realised that to support our future plans we needed to recruit and develop additional skilled staff to strengthen our existing team. The type of skills we look for are not easy to recruit and can take a long time to find but I already knew that one way of addressing this was to offer apprenticeships to young people who we could educate and train the type of skills we needed, providing them with the opportunity that I was fortunate enough to have when I left school.

I began my career as an apprentice engineer, choosing to follow this path because I didn’t have the GCSE grades to go to university or more importantly the financial means needed to fund a degree course. But the decision to take on apprentices wasn’t only based on sentimentality; it was based on forward thinking business sense.

Here are my ten top tips for making apprentices work for your business:

1. Be clear what you want your apprentice to do
Apprentices are most effective when you recruit and then manage them to do a particular job and learn specific skills. But remember, apprentices can also be innovative and bring fresh ideas into the business.

2. Choose a good partner
Develop a strong relationship with your learning provider. Tell them what you want to achieve and then they can ensure your apprentice learns the skills that you need for your business. They can also identify the right apprentices for you.

3. Make apprentices feel part of the business
Apprentices can bring real value to your business – by working alongside your existing staff day-in day-out they learn how things get done in your company. But they can also share new skills and ideas with their colleagues.

4. Don’t treat them differently
They may still be learning but that doesn’t mean you should constantly remind them of that – you are investing in them to become an essential member of your team, so start treating them like that from day one.

5. Engage with existing staff
Communicate with your existing team about what the apprentices are bringing to the business – they are there to support staff not threaten their positions.

6. Have regular reviews
It’s important to be clear what you want from your apprentice and meet with them regularly to review how they are getting on, how they think it is going and how that compares with your view.

7. See an apprentice as an investment
Having an apprentice in your business is a commitment; you get out what you put in. Make sure that you are giving them the opportunities they need to grow and you will see the benefits.

8. Identify a dedicated manager
Have someone the apprentice can talk to who isn’t supervising them on a day to day basis. Having a manager who is interested in their progress can help identify problems that arise and ensure they are tackled as quickly as possible.

9. Take advantage of external support
There is plenty of support out there to ensure your apprenticeship scheme is a success – take advantage of it.

10. Be honest about how it’s going
If there are problems, deal with them - don’t let them fester. It’s important to be honest with your apprentice and yourself about how they are getting on. That way you get the best out of it for you and your business.