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Apprenticeships: can they bolster small business?

To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, we’ve investigated the huge value apprenticeships bring to small business. From growing wisely, to hiring the best talent, they’re a fantastic asset to start-ups and small companies.

Apprentices today are much more than having a catchphrase and a face that looks good in front of Sir Alan. University fees are growing each year, and jobs for graduates are becoming ever more competitive. At the same time, there’s a culture of small business and entrepreneurship growing in the UK. Combine the two and you’ve got an environment ripe for efficient, low-cost recruitment.

Apprenticeships in the UK are at a record high at the moment, contributing more to the UK economy than ever before – close to 89% of businesses that employ apprentices have reported it has helped improve the quality of their product or service. On the other side, the majority of apprentices (90%) stay in employment after finishing their scheme, with 70% staying with the same employer.

Relevant training

Whether it’s plumbing or marketing, the on-and-off-the-job training provided by apprenticeships can lead to much more than a qualification at the end. As the exposure during an apprenticeship is far greater than what you could ever get from an interview, job offers are common. Sarah Welton was an apprentice at a London-based digital agency specialising in charity clients: “In the grand scheme of things, it was totally worth it for me, as I now have a really strong career in digital design. And I think it was worth it for them as well – I stayed and worked there for 4 years afterwards.”

Some industries have recruited using this method for years, down to its mutually beneficial advantages. Marine River Inspector Paul Rickner completed his apprenticeship 18 years ago (with Watermans Co and the PLA) and is still employed in the same company, working with apprentices himself: “These schemes give employers a much stronger understanding and knowledge of training you’ve had,” he says. “The skills you learn are fully applicable to the role in which you would go into. For example, my apprenticeship revolved around ship towing and lighterage towing (barges).”

Day-to-day advantages

Sarah’s apprenticeship was in digital design and it gave her a real (and much needed) insight into what a job in her chosen career was like (i.e. it’s not all creative scamping, even as a designer). In a small business, this kind of training is perfect because it provides essential digital support to the existing team: “I ended up having to do a lot of the “boring” bits that they didn’t want to do, but this involved things like report writing and creating presentation decks which are actually very valuable skills. With the right combination, I think it’s a hugely beneficial arrangement, not only to the apprentice, but also to the company.”

The same sentiment is echoed by director of eBusiness Works, Emma Loughlin. She took on two apprentices this year, after working with graduates who she felt had unrealistic expectations of the workplace: “We were very excited at the prospect of taking someone on without any pre-conceptions of the workplace and what we do, and being able to take them under our wing and train them in all aspects of the business. The hands on experience that they will gain will be invaluable and something that is really difficult, in fact nigh on impossible to teach in a more formal academic setting.”

When it comes to tech, these day-to-day advantages extend even further to the business running the scheme, as well as the apprentice. Apprentices can be a pair of fresh eyes on processes, and also an injection of updated tech knowledge and best practice. Often new technological developments can be implemented using apprentice’s skills – you can even recruit specifically with this in mind.

Know what you want

But there’s an art to finding the right apprentice and the right fit for your business. You’ve got to know exactly what you need, and put together a really specific description of the role so that both you, and your apprentice are clear. Sarah says, “it’s quite a big responsibility to take on an apprentice. The line manager needs to be on board, and also needs to have time to work with the apprentice to mentor them. If they don’t, then it’s hard on both parties.”

From making the most of a younger generation’s tech knowledge, to how to run an apprenticeship within your business, there’s a huge amount of information available online. Apprentices can bolster small businesses in incredible ways, with fresh perspectives on tech, a highly tailored skill set – and as a potential employee who knows your business inside out.

For free, impartial business tech help and advice, why not book a session with an O2 Guru? They’re available online, in store and over the phone.

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