According to a report by FSB this year, around a quarter of small businesses are already employing apprentices and a further 24 per cent would consider taking them on in the future. These businesses are making a big difference; the proportion of SMEs with an apprentice is 9 per cent higher than the national average. But what are the business benefits of taking on an apprentice?
Marion Speed of independent catering company Wilson Vale says it was difficult when employing apprentices to find the right fit at first. ‘We advertised on our website initially and then worked with an apprenticeship provider which did a good job of vetting candidates, but it was still challenging to attract people into the catering sector at this level,’ she says.
The company made the decision to pay more than the standard apprenticeship rate in order to attract a better standard of candidate.
Wilson Vale’s goal is to develop talent by providing candidates with the necessary craft skills, confidence and self belief to maximise their potential within the sector.
’It’s an opportunity to give people that first step into hospitality but also as a way of immersing people into our culture and our way of doing things, in the hope that they will stay with us and grow; we have a policy of promoting from within.’
Speed says that the company treats its apprentices exactly the same as the rest of its staff, providing them with mentoring and on-the-job training.
One particular success story is Victoria, a 20-year-old currently working towards an NVQ Level 2 in professional cookery.
‘She is now learning craft skills in all sections of the busy kitchen where we cater for approximately 650 people each day, and has proved to be an outstanding apprentice who has become totally immersed in our culture and standards,’ says Speed.
‘She is now covering a maternity leave position and we feel that ultimately, she has what it takes to be a great chef manager.’
Speed’s advice to any company thinking of taking on an apprentice is do it, but choose your apprentice provider well.
‘Don’t get too despondent if you don’t see the right talent immediately when employing apprentices, because if Victoria is anything to go by, it is worth waiting for the right calibre person to come along,’ she says.
‘When you do get someone on board, treat them with respect as you would give any valued team member and give them the recognition and encouragement to stick with it.’
Look for quick learners
Justin Deaville, managing director of digital marketing agency Receptional agrees that, when employing apprentices, finding talented people with years of industry experience can be difficult, which is why the company has been keen to take on apprentices capable of acquiring the skills needed to grow the agency.
Deaville spoke to a handful of apprenticeship providers and was impressed by the individual approach of one Stevenage-based organisation.
‘They were especially keen to match us with a candidate whose background and interests would fit with our business, and we felt that was important – after all we love digital marketing, but not everyone else does,’ Deaville says.
‘We were interested in working with a smart, technically-sound candidate. Someone who might have gone to university, but for whatever reason has decided not to.’
The provider ran a screening process to ensure the company was seeing candidates that suited its needs. ‘We are only a small business, so the screening was vital – it saved us many hours of interviewing,’ Deaville says.
Like Wilson Vale, the company decided to pay a good wage. ‘I believe we pay more than any other employer that works with the provider. That helped us – the salary set a benchmark; it suggested we were serious about the course and the person who would be joining us.’
As a result, Deaville has been delighted with most of the apprentices he has worked with. ‘Of the three apprentices who’ve joined us, two are still with the business; their careers are progressing well.’
Employing apprentices to help grow your business
Some businesses look to apprenticeship schemes specifically to address a growth in business demand. Michelle Chapple, managing director of Total SEO says that just under four years ago, her company was a four-person business working from a home office, but the requirement for SEO services has increased massively over the past few years, helping her business boom.
‘We’ve had to look at increasing staff numbers to keep up with client needs, and to do so we looked to start an apprenticeship scheme in order to expand,’ Chapple adds.
Her recruitment process saw the company bring in a mix of experienced staff as well as apprentices during that time. ‘The main benefit of experienced staff is obviously an influx of ability and proficiency, while apprentices bring in enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.
‘The other good thing from a business perspective is that they’re a more affordable option. It certainly works both ways though as employing apprentices means they benefit from invaluable work experience, along with a professional qualification, all while being paid.’
Taking on an apprentice can provide many benefits for a smaller business but also many challenges, particularly relating to employment law. This can be very time consuming for company owners so it’s worthwhile seeking support.
One low-cost way of doing this is to join a business membership organisation such as FSB, where businesses can access the 24/7 legal advice helpline as well as take advantage of the unlimited access to our factsheets and templates. Visit fsb.org.uk for more information.