Winning young hearts

With the Government encouraging more employers to take on apprentices and a high-profile campaign from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), training professionals are well aware that there’s more to a successful apprenticeship programme than finding suitable candidates and getting them to sign the dotted line. Dealing with young, first-time workers is a great challenge for any organisation, as many readers have written to us to point out. We look at how organisations can win their hearts and minds, ensuring they complete the apprenticeship and that both they and their employers reap the benefits.

David Fell, Training Manager, ADT
Our apprenticeship programme does not have a formal end date because we don’t believe everyone learns at the same rate. We grade the apprentices twice a year and when they’ve reached the required standard, they have completed the apprenticeship and become an engineer. This means the faster learners are not held back and it doesn’t put pressure on the slower ones. As a result, the retention rate is very high.

Matthew Allton, ADT apprentice and BSIA apprentice of the year
I wanted to do something where I would learn a trade as well as get a qualification. Going to college [as part of the apprenticeship] is a good idea because you get to meet electricians from different companies. You learn the technical side at college and then put it into practice when you work alongside an engineer. The engineers and the trainers have given me lots of support. I’ve had the opportunity to do lots of different things – engineering, management, and even design.

Helen Nightingale, Senior training adviser,South Staffordshire Water
I’ve found having a reliable training provider is the key. We use the Engineering Federation in Birmingham, which has its own technology centre and gives us reports and provides feedback for our students. If the apprentices go to their NVQ providers and the tutors don’t turn up, they will get disillusioned and decide it isn’t what they want to do. If you’re honest and upfront with them, they know what they need to do for themselves and the company. You need to treat people with respect as well as reward them.

Keith Hatter, Chief executive, K2 Performance Systems
Employers would serve their apprentices well by ensuring three basic needs are met. The need for a sense of choice as to how they go about their work – you might need to point them in the right direction at first, but supporting their autonomy as soon as possible will motivate them well. Work on their sense of confidence. Point out the areas where they need to improve, but ensure this is balanced with pats on the back. Finally, make sure they feel supported at work. You need to be their coach as well as their boss.

Caroline Smith, Policy officer, learning and skills, TUC
If you want these youngsters to succeed you need to give them a lot of support early on. At 16, you don’t really know what you want to do. They can need a lot of hand-holding. We see our apprentices at least every two months. They’re seen every two weeks in college and the NVQ team will see them on an ad hoc basis once a month. There is also an e-mail chat facility, so that they can contact the team whenever they want to.

Ken Lewis OBE, Founder, Dutton Engineering, and chairman of the East Mentoring Forum
High-quality training and good wages and conditions are central to encouraging apprentices to stay on. Along with collective bargaining over these issues, union representatives are playing mentoring roles and helping young people adjust to working life. These factors help drive up completion rates and lift the status of apprenticeships. We don’t see enough employers offering apprenticeships to people from ethnic minorities and women. Additional measures may need to be put in place to help these young people stay on.

We want individuals with the right attitudes and a little bit of fire and ambition in their bellies. Our main goal is to make them feel like part of the team by getting them into the meetings and briefings. We are always anxious to let them choose their own way forward and have ownership of their own career trajectory with us – whether it be on the engineering side, or even in marketing or accounts.

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