Should you be considering an apprentice?

National Apprenticeship Week runs from 9th to 13th March 2015 and will celebrate apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy. So, we caught up with Joseph Blass, CEO of WorkPlaceLive, to find out why he decided to hire apprentices and what advice he would give other businesses considering doing the same.

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Proper training of apprentices can help a business secure a solid future – a lesson for Darth Vader perhaps?

Why did you decide to take on apprentices?
We decided to recruit our first apprentice in 2011 as part of a wider campaign to grow our IT support team and support our local community.

As a growing technology service provider, a key concern of ours was to develop a pipeline for technology talent. We sought a solution that would be sustainable for the long term, which would help encourage school-leavers into the workplace, offer them development and help us give something back to the community – our apprentice programme.

How are apprentices benefitting WorkPlaceLive?

Over the last few years, we have successfully recruited six local apprentices’ aged 17 to 19 through government-funded schemes, all of whom still work with the company and make up a fifth of our workforce.

WorkPlaceLive provided a year’s paid employment and on-the-job training to each apprentice and this has delivered a real return on investment.
We’ve found some great talent – real gems – people who might have otherwise fallen through the cracks and who were a bit rough around the edges at first. With time and the right kind of support, they’ve proved to be genuine assets to the business, contributing great value to our customers and business.

We are prepared to invest time and resources into developing new talent, and the government apprenticeship scheme offers the ideal incentive.
While experience and a lack of qualifications can be considered a shortcoming, employing people with a fresh attitude and an open mind to learn and adapt is a huge benefit..” It is like when a football club does better with players coming from the youth team than buying stars who don’t always adapt to the team’s ethos or style of play.

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The key to finding the perfect apprentice is passion – without it they’re unlikely to succeed.

How do you recruit apprentices successfully?
One of the biggest challenges in recruiting apprentices is that as an employer, you don’t always have much to go on. Most of them are fresh out of college or school, they don’t have much work experience, and their CVs are often sparse.

We look for that spark and hunger to learn. All of the apprentices we’ve hired had one thing in common – a genuine passion for IT and they want to learn on the job. Without this passion, it just doesn’t work.

What have you learnt from the experience?
It’s not always plain sailing at the beginning – it can take a lot of time and investment to make the relationship work.

Most apprentices are new to the world of work so it’s important to spend some time early on helping them to understand some of the more basic workplace related skills, such as timekeeping and communication.

We have had really quiet apprentices who we took a chance on but with the right support they developed self-confidence and are doing a fantastic job.

Is there a secret to managing apprentices?
Getting the balance right is essential, providing a supportive environment but also treating them like grownups. Whilst we are there to support and help them develop we teach them to take responsibility for themselves – this has helped them develop more quickly than if they were simply watching someone more experienced doing the job.

It’s important to manage the expectations of apprentices and supervisors alike, these can vary greatly and it helps to be specific at the beginning of a given task.

How do you get started?
Setting up an apprenticeship scheme is very challenging, so businesses considering this option should not underestimate the time needed to dedicate to the apprentices. However, it is also very rewarding to be able to offer skills and training to local people.

There are great resources available on the web, and a lot of recent industry expertise to guide you, so it needn’t be difficult. Talk to employers like us, who have implemented apprenticeship schemes and can give you practical examples and support implementing this in your business. Also be sure to reference Government guidance:

• Government advice & guidance: https://www.gov.uk/take-on-an-apprentice/overview
• National Apprenticeship Website: http://www.apprenticeships.gov.uk/

We have seen, first hand, the benefits apprenticeship programmes can bring to both the people we take on but also to the business.
It is our responsibility to run our business, but if at the same time we can help young people into the workplace that is a double benefit. All it takes is some careful planning and organising, plus a small investment. Yet it has the power to deliver real return on investment and change people’s lives.

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