As an article in The Independent noted last week "There may be little political consensus on education, but one thing all parties seem to agree on is that more apprenticeships should be available to young people". Increasing access to training and apprentices is an excellent commitment - but if these plans are to be effective - then businesses need to recognise the responsibility of the employer to look after the young people that they take on.
So if your company is thinking about brining apprentices into the workplace, here are the main issues I would urge all business to consider:
Don't employ apprentices as cheaper labour for your business;
They not a short term fix or alternative contingent labour.
One of the main political stories of the past few months has focussed on the continuing debate around members of parliament taking a second job, and this will no doubt continue to be a talking point in the first months of the new parliamentary term.
But it is not just MPs in the news when it comes to people seeking a secondary income; at the other end of the pay-scale, there are young people on training apprenticeships also having to double up on jobs. And for the latter group, this means less about supplementing an already healthy wage, and more about covering the basics.
The National Union of Students, speaking recently to the BBC, called attention to a number of apprentices having to take second jobs; The minimum wage for an apprentice is £2.73 an hour for 16-18 year olds and also for 19 year olds in their first year. It is this figure which the NUS has called exploitative - as it can cause a situation where apprentices are unable to even afford the cost of their travel to work. One example quoted in the BBC article was of an apprentice already working a 42 hour week and having to take a 12 hour per week additional part time job in order to make ends meet.
I have no doubt that it is highly likely that there exist some unscrupulous employers simply looking to get the cheapest labour on the market and who use the basic apprenticeship wage as a means to achieve this, with little thought for the people they are employing. But this is an example of worst practice - and it would be a huge shame for a few unprincipled employers to tarnish what can be an excellent way to help young people into employment.
Understand the benefits a professional apprenticeship scheme can provide:
Savvy businesses are beginning to understand that well structured apprenticeships don't just help young people to get on the career ladder - they actually offer an immediate financial return on the business' investment. Indeed, a recent Association of Accounting technicians study showed the overall annual economic benefit, for a business who hires an apprentice, to be £1,845 per employee, per year.
With the higher education system filled with many capable and enthusiastic young people struggling to manage unavoidable and large debts, employers should begin to realise that apprentices are very much going to be part of our future. But this is not simply about helping young people become part of the workforce; industry decision makers have a fantastic opportunity to mould the next generation into future leaders of our professions, our industries and our communities. And they can then go on to be the inspiration for the next generation behind them.
Understand that rewarding an apprentice appropriately will enable them to be
able to focus on being the employee you want and need them to be.
I have already talked about the fact that employees need to understand their responsibility to commit to paying minimum wage; but it should be remembered that minimum wage is still tough to survive on. If employers want to get the best from their apprentices then if possible, they should endeavour to commit to paying at least the Living Wage (£7.85 across the UK and £9.15 in London) and to consider providing benefits such as help towards travel. The result is a motivated apprentice who can focus on their training, their job and themselves, who will be able to develop a career path, and who will be of far more benefit to the business in the long run.
Do be prepared to invest time in an apprentice; an important part of their
development is time with a mentor to develop the values and behaviours for the role.
The best apprenticeship schemes don't simply offer professional training, but also provide structured pastoral care to go alongside it. Mentoring is an extremely effective way of helping apprentices to progress in their careers
Pastoral care can help an apprentice not only develop solutions to career issues - they can also use this opportunity to work with a professional mentor to develop their life skills.
Don't identify apprentices as solely for trade or blue collar roles, apprentices
exist and add value across the business spectrum.
Good apprenticeship training provides high level technical knowledge, plus the opportunity to gain on-the-job skills that tie in with that knowledge. Alongside this, mentoring helps install the values and behaviours that all businesses seek from employees.
What this means is that with the right recruitment and training processes in place, the schemes can provide an excellent source of talent for management positions, as well as the more traditional manual labour roles.
Ultimately, if managed properly, an apprenticeship scheme can provide not only economic benefit to both the employee and the apprentice but help provide a solution to the challenges of social mobility, of skills shortages of how to encourage creativity and innovation in the next generation.
The Next Steps
Of course apprenticeships, especially at a higher level will be new to many organisations and so there also needs to be an onus on business leaders to find out more about how to begin this process. The Skills Funding Agency offers an excellent place to start, the National Apprentice Service holds a wealth of information, and the Government's apprenticeship website also offers key advice on how to begin to assess what kind of apprenticeship or training scheme, might fit your workplace.
Darren Jaundrill is Director of n:gaged the social enterprise leading the London Major Programmes Apprenticeship (LMPA) which is working with many of the UK's largest infrastructure companies, creating not just a number of job opportunities for young people, but providing a springboard into a professional career, specifically in high level Project Management.
Young people interested in the potential career and training opportunities available with the LMPA should visit www.majorprogrammesapprenticeship.london