Apprenticeships: the poor relation?

July 29, 2016

HR180 is the leading HR outsourcing and consultancy company in Leeds, Yorkshire dealing with everything to do with the people side of businesses throughout the UK. HR Manager Becky Mee ponders Apprenticeships which can be seen as the poor relation of post-16 education.

Credit Flickr adminhappycontractorI’ve recently had the misfortune of having my house re wired.  Now, that might seem like an odd way to start this blog, and no it’s not a call for sympathy (honest!), but a conversation I had with Andy, Electrician Extraordinaire, got me thinking.

He runs his own company and like many entrepreneurs with growing teams in a skilled industry he’s facing an increasingly common problem.  The kids just don’t want to work in a trade.  Being a Spark just isn’t cool these days. I nearly dropped my coffee as he told me this.  I know?!  Having a skill like that is cool on so many levels – the satisfaction of diagnosing and fixing a major, potentially life or death situation, working with dangerous power tools, being able to earn really good money once qualified and being secure in a job for life (which is unheard of these days).

Apparently, I’m wrong.

Now I may be seeing the extremes from getting an electric shock and ending up on my derriere half way across my hall, but still, I couldn’t see what Andy was saying.  Mulling this over on the walk to work, I tried to think like your average NEET and came up with the following reasons why a 17 year old may say ‘hell NO’ to an apprenticeship:

  • Dirty, dusty, long hours.
  • Bad pay to start off with.
  • No immediate gratification.
  • Crawling through floor boards and in lofts.
  • College – it’s a pain no matter how you look at it.
  • Just don’t see the point or value in doing an Apprenticeship compared to other forms of study (or just getting a ‘proper’ job).
  • Lack of grit.
  • Not taking feedback well.
  • Personal reasons.
  • Having to be reassessed on basic skills levels of English, maths and ‘using your noodle’ (or logical thinking as the curriculum refers to it…)
  • Potentially no guarantee of a job at the end.

Sadly, apprenticeships are often seen as the poor relation in education terms. College students now are faced with making up a certain number of credits to finish and apprenticeships are in competition with ‘soft option’ courses, like hospitality, which are being offered by colleges so they don’t lose the funding – and the kids make the grade!

Some of these soft option courses, e.g. travel and tourism, can make a fantastic career for someone with the right basic skills set. It takes real passion, empathy, practical problem solving, abstract and logical thinking as well as basic literacy and numeracy to excel.

So how about apprenticeships? An apprentice within the hospitality industry could lead someone to becoming the operations or general manager in the same way that a graduate fast-track programme could and, based on time taken for A Levels and a degree, you are five or more years ahead of the game!

Ok, maybe I have a bee in my bonnet because my whole career has developed from being a waitress in a restaurant (and in fact my HR experience comes via hospitality, leisure and tourism).

Even at the top of big business often managers have progressed through the ranks to reach the heady heights. Bill Marriott took over the company from his dad and he started off ‘bussing’ tables and serving people. His dad gave him a hotel to run and Bill himself wanted to work through every department as he would not expect people to do a job he wouldn’t do himself.

So, back to apprenticeships!!

As an employer why do it? Andy’s reason for having apprentices is to grow his business – he wants to reach a critical size in 5 to 6 years and is finding it difficult to find experienced Sparks who are willing to work away from home at a wage he can afford – or indeed his clients can afford as Andy has the job of balancing costs against his wage bill. When Sparks leave after 2-3 years having a trained up apprentice means someone home grown can step in and train the next person.

Even as a relatively small business Andy is working some really great people strategies:

  • Future proofing.
  • Succession planning.
  • Flexing wage bill.
  • Creativity with budget as a couple of apprentices would thereabouts match the cost of one person finishing and there is potential for local or national government funding to boot.

What options might I highlight to someone like Andy? How about working more closely, and building ties, with local technical colleges perhaps as a guest speaker and mentor or offering workshops?  Perhaps consider advertising with apprenticeship placement companies or look at ‘chasing the funds’ – i.e. those who fund will have people to place.

Staff retention is really important when you are investing in people development and training. So make your apprentices a full part of team with similar terms & conditions, giving constructive feedback, support coaching (as they will be inexperienced and green!) If literacy and numeracy is not great then help them get assistance at college. Teach them about time keeping and how they present themselves to clients and other team members. Make sure that you are getting away from mentality of ‘don’t have time to tell you this’ and moving to ‘yes I do – I want this person to stay’.

He might find he is in competition with other attractive education options – but then not everyone wants to build up student debt. There are plenty of capable people who are ready, willing and able to learn ‘on the job’ – and get paid for it!

For more ideas on making apprenticeships work in your business, or creating strategies to future proof your company, call on our HR180 Heroes who can deal with all aspects of HR outsourcing and consultancy in and around Leeds, Yorkshire and the whole of the UK. Telephone 0113 287 8150 for a no obligation chat about what is happening in your business.


Leeds based HR180 is a team of superheroes in HR Outsourcing, Projects and Consultancy committed to work in partnership with organisations of all sizes to establish working policies to go above and beyond Employment Law requirements, to protect both employees and employers alike. We love to hear from you, so call us on 0113 287 8150 or hit the Rescue Me button.

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