We are now in the middle of National Apprenticeship Week – five days of events that aim to highlight the importance of apprenticeships to UK business.
Apprenticeships are a vital, and yet underused, business tool. They can help you to build the workforce that you need, in a cost-effective way. But what exactly are apprenticeships, and how can they help you?
What are apprenticeships?
Apprenticeships used to be amongst the most common ways of learning a trade. They are work-based training schemes that enable individuals to learn ‘on the job’, while also providing an element of more formal, classroom-based instruction.
Apprenticeships are again in vogue, with many businesses recognising the potential benefits to their organisation. At the same time, these schemes are helping thousands of people of virtually every age find their way into fulfilling careers.
Aren’t they just for big businesses?
There is a common misconception that apprenticeships are the preserve of huge corporations. This is not the case. In fact, apprenticeships are available to businesses of every size – and are often of most use to the very smallest organisations.
There is a range of help available for small firms who wish to provide apprenticeship schemes. To begin with, the National Apprenticeship Service will provide up to 100 per cent of the cost of training an apprentice. The actual amount you receive will depend on the age of the apprentice, and the sector in which they are being trained. So, for apprentices aged between 16 and 18 you will receive up to 100 per cent; for apprentices aged between 19 and 24 you will receive up to 50 per cent; and for apprentices aged over 25 you will receive a contribution depending on location and sector.
There is also a recognition that many businesses simply do not have the resources or expertise required to offer the classroom-based element of an apprenticeship. So, while the on-the-job training will be provided by you, the classroom-based segment can be outsourced to a so-called ‘learning provider’ – often a local college. Alternatively, if you want to carry out the entire process in-house, you are free to do so.
From the outset, you should remember that an apprenticeship is a form of employment like any other. You will be legally obliged to pay your apprentices at least the National Minimum Wage. If your first apprentice will also be your first employee, you should also make sure that you understand the tax implications.
How can they help me?
The benefits of apprenticeships to the apprentice are clear. But what about the benefits to your business?
Apprenticeships provide you with a unique opportunity to build a workforce that has precisely the skills required by your business. Apprentices are there to learn a trade, and they are there to learn from you. This is therefore a mutually beneficial situation; you end up with an employee who knows your business inside out, and they end up with the skills they need to succeed.
It is also worth noting that apprentices often prove to be remarkably dedicated, motivated employees. They are there because they want to learn, and this generally means that they are happy to apply themselves to a greater degree than might be expected of some other employees.
How do I get started?
Starting your first apprenticeship scheme can be a daunting prospect. Thankfully, though, there is plenty of help available.
Your first step should be to contact the National Apprenticeship Service. This agency will be able to explain exactly what the process entails, and will tell you how best to secure funding.
You will then be appointed an Apprenticeship Representative, with whom you will meet. They will help you to ascertain what the training process will require of you, and will help you to find a learning provider where relevant.
You can contact the National Apprenticeship Service helpline on 08000 150 0600.