National Apprenticeship Week 2016: A call to action for SMEs

Halfway through National Apprenticeship Week, Tracy Ewen discusses the factors to consider for a small business thinking of an apprenticeship programme. 

Halfway through National Apprenticeship Week, Tracy Ewen discusses the factors to consider for a small business thinking of an apprenticeship programme. 

National Apprenticeship Week has highlighted the benefits and importance of apprenticeship schemes for the past eight years, although the question still exists as to whether small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK have taken this annual event as a call to action to implement schemes of their own.

Falling from 14th to the 18th of March, this is the first National Apprenticeship Week since the announcement of the National Living Wage and apprenticeship levy, leaving many SMEs concerned about whether or not to take the leap and introduce a programme, particularly when facing concerns over the time and resources the process could take.

However, in spite of these perceived obstacles, small businesses across the UK must realise that an apprenticeship scheme would not only benefit their own business, but the local economy and its people too. As we move into the next financial year, SMEs should consider implementing a scheme as an investment into their future.

What are the business benefits?

For SMEs, cost and resource are both paramount to any business decision, as leaving the company without a healthy cash flow pipeline would leave it on the back foot for the remainder of the financial year. Fortunately, apprenticeships are a key focus for the government so there is funding available for businesses with fewer than fifty employees. This additional source of funding can assist with setting up an apprenticeship scheme and ultimately make it a more cost-effective way of investing in the future of a business.

More than ever, apprenticeships mean truly investing in an individual and considering their contribution to the future of a business. Apprenticeships provide the opportunity to hire and develop someone for a specific role, rather than retraining existing staff alongside their current work, which may result in reduced productivity and greater training costs for the business. It is also important to remember that apprentices can be of all ages, and that small businesses should encourage both younger and more experienced candidates to join the team. By passing on skills and knowledge, businesses will only benefit from a loyal member of staff who complements other employees, as well as the activity and success of a team.

How to find the right candidate

Before starting the interview process, it is important to identify the tasks that an apprentice could assist with or own, the teams this individual could fit in with, and what their role would look like within the company. Finding a candidate that complements the existing team could seem like a daunting task, but businesses must remember the importance of not settling for a ‘temporary fit’ and offering an apprenticeship scheme that is worthy of the investment in time and resources.

The next decision boils down to the type of apprenticeship on offer and what would be more suitable for not only the business, but for the individual joining the team as well. Some small businesses could see an increased benefit in hiring a more mature candidate restarting their career in a new industry, but bringing a wealth of previous experience to the team, over a candidate coming straight out of school or college. Whichever the outcome, bringing a new person on board will only serve to be a positive.

Setting up a scheme

Having exposure to several elements of the business is a really crucial part of an apprenticeship scheme. Not only could this help a candidate identify which area of the business gives them most enjoyment, but it also allows this extra resource to be spread equally across the different teams. Ideally, an apprentice would undertake a year-long scheme, covering a month or two in each different area depending on the size of the business, and complete any training modules or relevant qualifications that would be useful to climbing the career ladder.

It is important to bear in mind that with the National Living Wage coming into force in April 2016, many potential candidates could fear that their primary use will be as cheap labour, instead of being treated as a true member of the team from the outset. As such, apprentices should be offered a meaningful scheme that will be of true benefit to their development, rather than spending a year conducting menial tasks such as photocopying or making drinks. Equally, when establishing an appropriate salary, the type of work involved, and the candidate’s experience, should be considered, rather than simply accepting the minimum amount suggested by the government.

Whilst finding the right candidate can initially seem to be a daunting task, the benefits to a small business in the short and long term are clear. Apprenticeships ultimately bring profit into the business and the local economy, which in turn has a positive effect on the UK economy, and should definitely be considered as a business investment for the next financial year.

Tracy Ewen is managing director of IGF Invoice Finance.

Further reading on apprentices

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