Tips for taking on an apprentice at a small business

Anna Isaac
It’s important for each apprentice to be factored into the company’s growth strategy and future planning

Finding the right training provider for your business needs is crucial and requires careful research.

As university becomes an increasingly expensive prospect for young people, and with businesses struggling to recruit workers with the skills that they need, it’s easy to see apprenticeships as a win-win for both parties.

So how can a small business owner get started with an apprentice? 

Louize Clarke, founder of workspace company, ConnectTVT, sought opinions from businesses that had already employed apprentices before taking the plunge. She also met with training providers to get a realistic sense of the “highs, lows and contractual requirements involved”.

It’s essential that your existing staff are prepared to manage new and potentially inexperienced people and have the support to do this effectively

Dominique Unsworth, Resource Productions

Undertaking this kind of research is particularly important because there’s no one-stop shop for apprenticeships. Most are administered through training providers, each of which has different ways of working with apprentices and employers. Some will have a more vocational approach, while others will be more academic and classroom based. Schemes can also vary in length.

Finding the right training provider proved challenging for Dominique Unsworth, managing director at the Slough-based video production company, Resource Productions. “It can be hard work to identify local providers that actually want to engage with a small employer,” he explains. 

A second challenge is convincing them to deliver the apprenticeship that your business wants, she adds. “We called seven different colleges before finding one that was able to work with us." In the end, the company found industry-specific training providers, such as DiVa, to be the best fit.

Before approaching any providers, Ms Unsworth ensured that the business case for taking on another member of staff was sound, that it was affordable, and that the role would be right for an apprentice.
“We had to ensure that we actually had a business need that required an additional member of staff. Then we had to formulate the job role and description,” he explains.

Ms Clarke agrees with this approach as the best way to offer a worthwhile training experience and a role after training is completed. It’s important for each apprentice to be factored into the company’s growth strategy and future planning.

“It’s a way to nurture and shape home-grown talent, incorporating the skills that your business needs alongside the additional skill sets that your apprentice brings to your company,” she says.  

Be sure to measure the level of management skills in your organisation and, if necessary, offer staff management training before any apprentices start, adds Ms Unsworth. “It’s essential that your existing staff are prepared to manage new and potentially inexperienced people and have the support to do this effectively.” 

Simon Schneiders, founder of Blue Array, a search engine optimisation (SEO) company, has taken on five apprentices. His tip for other companies is not to push responsibility onto the person when they first join. Instead, allow them plenty of time to adjust to the work and the professional environment. 

He describes this as a “honeymoon” period: “The serious business
of ‘marriage’ – actually working on tasks in the business – is something that we try and ensure doesn’t happen until the individual has had at least three weeks of induction.” 

Mr Schneiders also believes that apprenticeship schemes can enrich senior management roles as the training involved adds an extra dimension to leadership beyond sales and profit. “We have a mentoring side to the business that makes their role one that's also based around nurturing and altruism, which is rewarding in itself.” 


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