Apprentices Can Help SMEs

Rachael Fidler, CEO, HTP TrainingIn today’s turbulent economic climate, many employers consider the skills shortage and recruitment difficulties a bigger challenge than soaring oil prices or declining consumer spending. And for SMEs with limited resources, finding the right staff can be especially challenging. Thankfully, an increasing number of organisations are recognising that apprenticeships offer a cost effective route to securing highly motivated and ambitious staff who can be trained on the job. Some would even argue that fully trained apprentices can be more effective than new graduates who sometimes lack the skills for a specific job role.

With case study evidence, Rachael Fidler, Managing Director of HTP Training explains why apprenticeship programmes are a win-win for SMEs. She explains how a well-designed apprenticeship programme ensures that a business can secure a member of staff who they could train, nurture and inculcate the organisational culture from the onset of the programme. There is also a £1500 government grant to support wage costs as a sweetener for SMEs looking to secure apprentices. For the apprentice, it provides them with a qualification and on the job training, allowing them to develop specific business skills that will have an immediate impact on their career prospects, future employability as well as their self-esteem.

In the current climate, with unemployment rates sky high, you would be forgiven for thinking that businesses are finding it easy to recruit staff. Small and medium sized enterprises (SME) in particular often struggle to find the right calibre of candidates with the right level of skills. Why? It is mainly because they lack the HR and training resources that larger organisations have – some SMEs may not be able to afford to advertise vacancies let alone put in place a robust personnel development process to up-skill existing staff. This is a dilemma SMEs across the board face – whether they are a telesales call centre, an online retailer, a manufacturer or even a B&B operator. If a business is unable to find the right talent, it is very likely to stifle growth and it impacts the bottom line.

Thankfully a number of SMEs are turning to apprenticeships to fill this void. The 2012 Holt Report from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that whilst 99% of businesses are SMEs only 10%* have taken on apprenticeships. Yes, 10% may be a small fraction but that’s better than nothing – especially as apprenticeships offer an effective solution for SMEs looking to build a talent pipeline.

The process of securing an apprentice begins with a training provider working in consultation with the employer to understand the specific requirements for the apprenticeship programme. Next the training provider would advertise the apprenticeship vacancy – at no cost to the employer – and then begin shortlisting candidates. Applicants will be screened to ensure that they fit the requirements for the role, for example have a passion for sales or a friendly approachable manner for customer service. The most suitable candidates will then be sent over to the employer for interview. Once the applicant is selected, the next stage is for the training company to tailor the training framework with the employer to include units that meet the exact requirements of the employer. In a nutshell, the apprentice is moulded for the specific role within the business. And a dedicated training consultant from the apprenticeship training provider will help deliver the skills and knowledge required for the role – just as an internal training manager would.

To bridge the skills gap, SMEs can now choose to develop their own programmes with a training provider to build an effective talent pipeline and secure staff they could train, nurture and inculcate the organisational culture from the onset. Apprenticeships in management and leadership, customer service and sales have recently been particularly popular. Furthermore to secure talent for senior roles, the National Apprenticeship Service, the body responsible for supporting and funding apprenticeships introduced Higher Apprenticeships. This means that SMEs can effectively up skill their apprentices to fill senior roles.

No wonder some describe SMEs and apprenticeships as a match made in heaven! Last but not least, there is also the £1500 government grant to support wage costs as a sweetener for organisations looking to secure apprentices. To reap the full benefits of an apprenticeship, it is important to understand that an apprentice is a learner and requires an investment of not just finance, but also time. Be open and honest with the training provider so they can design a robust framework which can maximise the business benefits of an apprenticeship.

And what are the benefits of apprenticeships to youngsters? With youth unemployment at record levels, an apprenticeship can play a pivotal role in helping them to secure on the job training to gain ‘real world’ working skills whilst getting paid for it. Many unemployed youngsters complain that employers offer work to those who have experience – but of course to gain experience you would need to have worked. Apprenticeships are the solution to this classic chicken and egg scenario.

Going to university has for some time been seen as the norm. Politicians who were keen to be seen as encouraging upward social mobility promoted the virtues of graduate degrees and urged youngsters to go to university. It is easy to see why so many youngsters and their parents felt that a university degree was the ticket to a ‘guaranteed’ job. Everyone deserves an education, but what most politicians fail to say is that quality education does not have to involve going to university. The fact is, there is no right or wrong form of higher education – what’s important is that the qualification can secure a successful career at the end of it. Any programme – vocational or academic – that helps SMEs to grow and helps youngsters to secure jobs can only be a good thing for the economy.


About HTP Training

HTP was established in 2000 by Rachael Fidler. HTP specialises in the design and delivery of work related training and services across a wide range of sectors including hospitality and catering, management, retail, customer service and business administration as well as designing specific programmes of study for individual employers. Today HTP is one of the country’s 12 best training providers achieving the coveted ‘Outstanding, Grade 1’ status from Ofsted in 2008. On average over the last three academic years 94% of all apprentices who have completed their apprenticeships with HTP remain in employment.

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