Why offer an apprenticeship?

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As employers search for the right skills to help them grow, there’s never been a better time to offer an apprenticeship, as Personnel Today’s Jo Faragher discovers.

More and more employers are starting to reap the benefits of offering an apprenticeship. And as the economy finally begins to turn a corner, businesses realise that developing a motivated, skilled and qualified workforce will help them attain real competitive advantage.

Figures from the National Apprenticeship Service show that apprenticeships have grown at a record rate: since 2010, more than 1.5 million people have started an apprenticeship. They now cover more than 170 industries and 1,500 job roles, including those not traditionally associated with apprenticeships.

Karen Woodward, interim national director of the National Apprenticeship Service, believes this demand is growing: “Apprenticeships are becoming the first-choice option for many young people.

“Recent research shows that demand for apprenticeships is high in sectors that may not have previously been associated with apprenticeships, such as IT, software and professional services. We need more employers to think about how they can offer apprenticeships to these passionate and motivated potential employees, and we are doing all we can to help employers meet this increasing demand.”

There are now three levels of apprenticeship available to offer: Intermediate; Advanced; and Higher. At the Intermediate and Advanced levels, apprentices work towards a Level 2 or Level 3 work-based learning qualification and, typically, a relevant knowledge-based qualification.

In 2011, the Government announced it was investing £25 million in a Higher Apprenticeship Fund to support thousands of apprentices to gain a degree-level qualification through a Higher Apprenticeship.

Employers as diverse as management consultants such as PricewaterhouseCoopers through to public relations agencies and McDonald’s Restaurants now offer apprenticeships.

Many of these organisations have been given the opportunity to shape how their apprenticeships are delivered and provide their input on the curriculum, so the skills apprentices acquire are more relevant for their business needs. Meanwhile, apprentices are more engaged at work because they can see a clear career pathway through Intermediate, Advanced and Higher Apprenticeships.

In all apprenticeships, the focus on quality occurs at every level. More than 100,000 employers have so far offered apprenticeships with a minimum duration of 12 months, reflecting the depth of the skills training available. The National Apprenticeship Service produced an Apprenticeship Quality Statement, which sets out the standards it expects for the delivery of a high-quality apprenticeship.

These standards include guidelines on minimum wages, working hours and time spent on guided learning, and they aim to raise standards and make sure that all apprenticeships offer a positive experience.

As well as building skills, employers report tangible financial benefits as a result of employing an apprentice. In a survey by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) in 2012, almost three-quarters of respondents said productivity had improved, while the average apprenticeship completer increases business productivity by £214 per week, according to figures from the Centre for Business and Economic Research.

The fact that training costs are covered for many apprentices, and apprentices can be paid the relevant minimum wage, (although many employers pay more than the minimum) makes it a financially sound option for employers looking to grow skills in-house.

The benefits aren’t just financial. Offering apprenticeships can also have a positive effect on employee retention. Typically, apprentices who have gained their qualification while working for the business feel greater loyalty to that employer – and figures from BIS have found that two-thirds of apprentices stay with the same employer after gaining their qualification.

“Apprenticeships provide employers with the workforce of the future. Through apprenticeships, employers gain the talented, skilled individuals they need to boost productivity and growth,” says Chris Jones, CEO and director general of City & Guilds.

“We partner with employers of varying sizes and industries on their apprenticeship programmes. All of them have seen the benefits apprenticeships can offer. Apprentices add value from day one – not just through their skills, but through their enthusiasm and drive.”

Certain employers may be eligible for support in hiring an apprentice. If your business employs up to 1,000 staff and has not employed an apprentice in the last year, you can apply for a £1,500 grant per apprentice to help cover starting costs for up to 10 new apprentice recruits aged between 16 and 24.

Between February 2012 and July 2013, this grant has enabled more than 35,000 more young people to start an apprenticeship. The National Apprenticeship Service has dedicated teams – including a small business support team – to guide employers through this process.

For employers who want to help prepare young people for apprenticeships and their future careers, new traineeships have been launched to help them to become “work ready”.

According to Woodward: “Traineeships provide a young person with the essential work preparation training, English and maths support if required and a meaningful work experience needed to get an apprenticeship or other job.”

With many organisations searching hard for the right talent to help them grow, apprenticeships offer a unique chance for employers to build the skills they need, and gain access to high-quality training that benefits both parties. Employers can draw from the widest possible pool of talent, safe in the knowledge that they are mobilising young people into a career, and boosting their own bottom line at the same time.

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