Answering the renewed call for apprenticeship success

GUEST BLOG: In this contributed blog post Jill Gates, vice president culture and people, Europe and Asia, at Ensono, talks about the steps that need to be taken to develop good apprenticeships. 

In June, Alex Burghart MP wrote a letter outlining a new vision to raise apprenticeship quality, setting an ambitious goal of reaching a 67% achievement rate on apprenticeship Standards by 2025. In addition, he stated, ‘there are things we can do at each stage of the apprentice journey to support continuation and achievement.’ Of course, he is right – organisations can take action at every stage to ensure apprenticeships thrive. Below are five digestible, but imperative, steps that organisations can take to lead a successful apprenticeship programme.

1. Effective recruitment

The apprenticeship journey begins long before the first day on the job. Potential new hires begin formulating their opinions on a company before the recruitment process has even started. Unfortunately, not every company has a household name that hooks ambitious talent from the outset. These companies should never underestimate the power of referrals. Referrals are a compelling way to convince new talent of the viability and reputation of a business. It is a cheap, effective, and integral tool in providing longer-term employment, especially within apprenticeship pools.

Aside from referrals, applicable companies should be looking at their Apprenticeship Levy and utilising it to recruit candidates from diverse backgrounds. Diverse recruitment is a strength that should be encouraged. The more diverse a group of candidates is, the more diverse that group’s perspectives are, which is a superpower that drives innovation, no matter the organisation.

2. Nurturing apprenticeship talent

Organisations need to begin nurturing apprenticeship relationships the same way they do client relationships; it is an ongoing and individualised process.

The nurturing of apprenticeship talent occurs from the outset of recruitment to completion of the programme. At the heart of the process sits aligning an organisation’s values with an understanding of an apprentice’s passions and principles. Additionally, building a  culture committed to honest conversations about workplace expectations and desires is crucial from the outset. So often, when we approach retention, it is, through excellent intentions, centred around goals and activities that we assume employees will appreciate. In reality, honest conversations about what an employer expects, what an employee/apprentice wants and how to assimilate those expectations will produce more fruitful outcomes.

On top of honesty, any good apprenticeship scheme should provide variety, addressing the natural curiosity that many apprentices will have. This is often achieved through exposure to several different areas of a business and people/teams, allowing apprentices to find out what they are passionate about within their field. Once those interests become apparent, an effort should be made to encourage them to follow their interests within the organisation. Employees who are not allowed to explore those interests will simply seek out those opportunities elsewhere.

3. Keeping apprentices engaged and motivated

The reality of today’s job market is that people don’t stay at the same organisation for as long as they used to. While it may sound overly simplistic, organisations need to make staying at their company a more attractive option than leaving to go elsewhere. For apprenticeships, that means investing in development at all levels. Programmes don’t all have to be for beginners coming into the company. For example, an organisation can provide opportunities internally allowing employees to earn management qualifications, especially if there are staff who haven’t had a university education.

Aside from investing in development throughout the company structure, there are a variety of motivation methods organisations can employ. Motivation can come from the nature of an individual’s work, learning from mentors and more senior colleagues, a clear career path, a vibrant company culture, and opportunities to reach out and make a difference in the community. Many organisations are now investing in providing these opportunities for their employees, as they understand there are a myriad of ways to attract and retain talent beyond what goes into the pay package.

4. Setting up candidates for their role in the workplace

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for how to retain staff once they have completed training or apprenticeships. However, when programmes are run correctly, the chance of retention grows exponentially.

An employee’s decision to stay is dependent on how well they are treated and how the company aligns with their passions and values, it’s essentially a circular process. As a result, organisations need to view development and progress as a continuous entity, not a list of demands to be met. Any company can use artificial intellegence (AI) to select candidates and plug them into roles, but the human element of development programmes is essential to success.

Retention is about understanding, at a human level, what makes an employee tick and adjusting their role and exposure around that. Approaching it from any other angle is an error.

5. Reaping the rewards

There are vast benefits that derive from apprenticeship and development programmes at  any level. They create energy and excitement within the workplace, which not only leads to fresh perspectives on real-life and work-related issues, but also leads to all employees raising their game. Learning works both ways, and while an apprentice is primarily expected to learn, their mentors and more senior colleagues will undoubtedly benefit  from the energetic creativity of new members.

It is widely accepted that increased diversity leads to improved business performance and outcomes. So whilst apprenticeship programmes allow organisations to close the skills gap and make a positive change within society, they also help improve performance company-wide. It’s a no-brainer!

Finally, when apprenticeship programmes are successful, they lead to substantially increased referability, meaning ambitious talent will look towards an organisation that they know will take their career seriously. When organisations invest in development and back apprenticeship programmes, it pays.

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