Taking on young talent: how to find your own apprentice

You know what you would like in your business: young, enthusiastic talent that you can mould and develop. But you’re concerned about the time and the potential costs to find and hire them. The answer: take on an apprentice.

It is a surprisingly cost-effective way of bringing in young talent.

“We were struggling to find qualified experienced staff at a standard I was happy with,” says Matthew Boyer, [PDF] whose vehicle body repair centre in Cromer, Norfolk, employs six people. “Using an apprentice would allow us to train up a member of staff ourselves and also to put something back into the trade.”

“We were struggling to recruit good quality staff, and we wanted to take on school leavers to train up, so we decided to find people via apprenticeships,” notes Dave Baker of Halesowen-based engineering consultancy Travis Baker [PDF].

“Looking towards the future of the business, I could see that because our customers are so diverse, if I took on a skilled engineer I would still have to train them for a year,” explains Chris Wright, director of Claramount [PDF], a specialist engineering firm based in Derbyshire. “So I wanted to give a young person a chance to learn a trade like I did, and develop my business at the same time.”

“For a normal job, we’d spend a lot of time interviewing and testing people,” says Ross Edwards, who runs Proactive ITS [PDF], an IT support company in Walsall. “Choosing an apprentice is less hassle – we know they haven’t got the skills initially, but we’re prepared to teach them so it’s not an issue.”

Cost-effective

The recruitment of an apprentice enables small companies to nurture and grow their own talent in a cost-efficient way. After all, the apprentices are learning your way of doing things.

“Apprenticeships suit me because my company is small, and we need new recruits to buy into our ideology and adhere to our excellent levels of customer service,” says Dr Tehir Nadeem, who started his Solihull Dental Practice [PDF] in 2011. “It is advantageous that they would come to me without extensive prior experience, as they may be more open to our way of doing business.”

Many small companies find that, with the right training, apprentices can be a great way of creating a workforce that is right for their particular business. The idea of training someone up and moulding them to do what you need is attractive.

Of course, with a motivated apprentice comes a fresh energy and a young perspective as well as an extra pair of hands. And customers appreciate the commitment to youth.

Photo of Greenfields Kennels and Cattery, finalist in the Small Employer of the Year Award category at the Apprenticeship Awards 2009

“He’s also got a younger mind and a better understanding of things like IT,” says Les Newsome of his apprentice at Aardvark Archery [PDF], a specialist archery retailer in Leeds. “Having a varied age group within our staff helps too, as our customers range from eight to 80.”

“He’s learning more quickly than someone fixed in their ways, and so I don’t have to rely on subcontractors,” notes Claramount’s Chris Wright. “Our customers know there is a shortage of skilled engineers, and they like to see that a company has taken on an apprentice. It looks good for us that we‘re investing in Joel’s future and the future of engineering.”

All apprentices have a lot to learn but company owners are pleased by the speed with which they pick things up, which in turn frees up the time for more qualified staff to get on with their job. An apprentice who learns fast will save a company money.

There is also the satisfaction of putting something back into an industry or, indeed, of preserving and handing down skills to the next generation.

“I wanted to put something back into the local area, and I also wanted someone I could train from scratch. It’s also a way of maintaining skills that are in danger of being lost, such as the intricate leatherwork we do,” observes Les Newsome of Aardvark Archery. “Training an apprentice makes sure those skills don’t die out.”

Grant programme

But for many employers, the real kicker is that much of the cost of hiring an apprentice can be covered through the Age 16-24 grant programme. “This was definitely a carrot,” says Les Newsome.

For Proactive ITS’s Ross Edwards, the Age 16-24 grant helped with cash flow, and assisted in covering the employment costs. The grant enabled Travis Baker to buy another version of an important software programme, explains Dave Baker. “We need to purchase a new license for each new staff member, so the grant helped us out a lot with this.”

It was a big deciding factor for Claramount, as a small company with growth ambitions. “It helped to cover the start- up costs of a new starter, such as insurance, a first aid course, safety work wear and so on,” explains Chris Wright.

“It has made the worthwhile decision to hire an apprentice even more cost effective,” says Tehir Nadeem. “The grant helped meet the costs of taking on a new member of staff, and in effect the grant is being re-invested into the business, to help it grow.”

Another story: Steve Richards, MD of engineering company Total Metal Products, describes how and why he recruited his apprentice 

You can find out much more about finding and hiring apprentices, as well as the employment grants that are available at www.gov.uk.