Employing apprentices can be a challenging prospect. Joe Parry, learning and development manager at HSS Hire, talks to Jo Faragher about how the hire shop built its apprenticeship programme.
For Parry, offering apprenticeships to young people has a personal resonance. When he left school, he joined the Youth Training Scheme – an on-the-job training programme – which gave him his first insight into working life.
“I believe in vocational qualifications and giving young people the opportunity to gain some qualifications along the way,” he says. “The first permanent job I got was through my tutor, and it gave me a good work ethic and a tonne of experience.”
When Parry joined HSS, the company offered apprenticeships, but on more of an ad-hoc basis with multiple suppliers, so he put together a proposal for an apprenticeship programme with a more strategic focus.
“We’re lucky to have a fantastic CEO on board who believes in the value of apprenticeships and investing in people. Of course we were also able to demonstrate a commercial value too but this was very much about how we could tap into a host of young talent, bring them into an industry that they might never have dreamt of coming into and support them in developing a real career,” he says.
“Hire Apprenticeship” programme
In September 2012, HSS Hire began a pilot for 50 apprentices aged 16 to 18 called the “Hire Apprenticeship”, which provides apprentices with the opportunity to experience four different areas of the business. It was important to match the structure of the training to key roles in the business: the sales desk, test and run, warehouse and driver’s mate. From that initial 50, 20 are still with the company in full-time roles.
HSS Hire has now welcomed more than 90 apprentices, and Parry says the ultimate measure of success is how many of them end up in a permanent role: “That’s our only measure as a business, that’s our KPI.”
And, because the company’s approach to taking on apprentices has been formalised, managers know where to come to discuss vacancies.
Choosing a training provider
The approach to choosing a training partner for the apprenticeships was also a key factor in their success. “I went out to look for training providers that would be right for us as a business – we needed like-minded people to partner with.” HSS Hire’s sole supplier for the Hire Apprenticeship is learndirect, while it also works with specialist providers in engineering and an upcoming agricultural apprenticeship.
HSS Hire worked with learndirect to produce a guide for managers and mentors, which outlined why the company was running apprenticeships, the part they would play in helping them settle in, and the support they would receive to do so. On top of this, Parry visited managers personally across the country to explain why HSS Hire were investing in the apprenticeship programme, as well as making sure the apprentices themselves were engaged in their roles.
The value of apprentices
Parry has been inspired by the energy that apprentices have brought to the workplace at HSS Hire. “They bring energy, they bring fun, they bring challenge,” he says. “They also have lots of up-to-date skills, such as IT, which is great as it can be quite daunting to learn an internal IT system at the pace our guys work at.”
And, contrary to the findings of Personnel Today’s recent research into employers’ perceptions of school leavers’ readiness for work, the feedback from the business and enthusiasm for apprentices has been “fantastic”, he adds: “Businesses worry about the time it takes to bring in apprentices and integrate them, but anything worth having takes time. You can learn as you go, and lean on the experts if there’s a problem.”
The enthusiasm has been such that some managers have asked to take apprentices on permanently when they have only been at the company for a few weeks: “We like to wait until they’ve been with us for at least four months before we offer them something permanent, because it gives us time to get to know each other and for them to decide if the role is really for them – but we do take on many of them before the 12 months of the training programme is up, because we’ve been so impressed by their energy and their potential.”
Apprentices have proven to be a great addition to the team at HSS Hire, and 18 months into offering these opportunities, the company is keen to keep developing the programme. Parry says that the mark of a good apprentice is someone with the right attitude, as skills and qualifications can all be trained: “They ask some great questions that make you stop and think, and they’re brave, they’re not afraid to tell it like it is.”
As the business continues to grow, it looks as though so too will their apprentices programme, hopefully creating some future leaders in the process.