With record numbers of Apprenticeship starts and recent employer surveys reporting even higher confidence in apprentices it seems that young people now have more chances, and choices, as they decide what career path to take.
Further education leading to higher education, in many cases, is still the parents' choice (and in some cases the schools' choice). However with the drive to create more Higher level Apprenticeships and the incentive of earning while gaining a university equivalent qualification, more and more young people are having a serious moment of pause with their UCAS application or in many cases with their university placement confirmation letter.
Historically, starting a career in the HR profession has been through graduate recruitment programmes or internal transfers within a business. However since 2012, young people have been able to take a Higher Apprenticeship in Human Resource Management, created by the CIPD and Skills CFA.
Now, there is a slight irony that most Apprenticeship programmes are conceived and often run from the HR part of the business, but it has taken a long time (in comparison to others) for HR higher Apprenticeships to be created. Compare the demand for HR apprentices with Telecoms/IT/Customer Service and other traditional sectors and you can understand why it wasn't high on most employers shopping list. Now the framework is available, will we see a dramatic change in how employers recruit their HR people?
If you look around jobs boards and development websites you'll see good HR people described as organised, flexible, literate & numerate with strong interpersonal skills who can work well across teams and be able to relate to a range of people.
CIPD talk about curiosity, decisive thinking, influencing skills, drive, collaboration, courage, personal credibility and the ability to be a role model. Whichever list you look at, there is no reason why an apprentice can't display all those characteristics.
So what are the challenges of taking on an HR apprentice? Well the first is that you need to ensure that the HR community is not uncomfortable or threatened by the arrival of enthusiastic young 'kids' however if you have a culture of Apprenticeships in your business, this shouldn't be an issue. Next, the HR apprentice will need to rotate to fulfil their qualification knowledge and competency requirements, whether that is in resourcing, reward, performance, employee engagement, employer relations or development. Finally you need to give the individual lots of support as they will not understand the behaviours of HR in the same way as an experienced employee or a graduate.
The last point is perhaps the most important and one which raises most questions in my mind. Ask young people, in education, what the HR function of a business is and you are likely to be told that they 'fire people' or 'have cups of tea and talk about problems'. So attracting young people to HR is difficult. Ask business people what young people lack and 'experience', 'common sense' and 'life skills' are often on the list. A lot of businesses therefore recruit HR people from other parts of the business who have gained experience, hopefully have common sense and by the fact that they are still employed, have developed strategies for dealing with or coaching people.
It seems experience and maturity is the key to being a successful HR professional and this presents the biggest challenge for recruiting large numbers of young people. Are Graduates mature and experienced I hear you cry? Well not all of them but the life experience of university will, in most cases, give them a little more preparation for this type of role.
To meet this challenge, education in schools about careers is vital as are online resources to further explain the choices. Young people interested in HR need to think about how they can undertake activities that will give them the opportunity to demonstrate the behaviours employers are looking for. Employers need to be rigorous when assessing potential apprentices but also be patient and understand that they may face a higher learning curve in HR than in some other more functional parts of the business.
One thing is for sure, a career in HR offers a very interesting and varied opportunity whether an apprentice, graduate or experienced professional.
To find out more about the business benefits of Apprenticeships, please contact the National Apprenticeship Service on 08000 150 600 or visit the website apprenticeships.org.uk