Hiring apprentices is a really attractive option for many small businesses, particularly where the role can be partially funded. But what do employers really need to be aware of before they jump into hiring an apprentice?
Know your why
Most employers I speak to want to hire an apprentice simply because they're "cheap" labour. They usually aren't of the opinion that hiring apprentices is part of their overall people strategy to grow their business. And that's a problem. Sure, you can pay an apprentice a cheaper rate of pay, but that's based on the fact that they aren't experienced or qualified enough to do the job fully. So although you aren't having to pay the full whack for an extra person...is it actually worth your time and money if you aren't planning to nurture the next generation of your industry as part of your business strategy?
Before hiring anyone, always consider: why do I need/want this role?
Prepare to nurture
When you take on an apprentice, you are signing up to support the individual for the duration of their learning, which is usually up to 3 years. When they start working with you, it's likely to be their first experience of work. So you need to be fully prepared to nurture them and teach them the skills we often take for granted like using initiative or being organised.
Yes, you are paying their wages and therefore they should fulfil a role for you. But remember that it works both ways for apprentices. They need you to be willing to teach them and give them your time as well as their wages!
Make room for them in your future
This one comes down to how your apprentices fit into your business strategy, but really, what is the point in spending 3 years training someone only to tell them there's no job for them in your business once they are qualified? Of course, it's often beneficial for your team to have experience in other areas of your industry, but think about it...
Apprentices are a long term investment of time and money. It's only once they are qualified that you will really start to see the return on your investment. So before you hire an apprentice, think about what your plan is for 4-5 years time. Will you want to be expanding or downsizing? Will you want to have a team of people around you who you know inside out and work to your standards or will you want new skills in the business?
Have a proper contract
I know, I know, I sound like a broken record. But your apprentice is an employee and therefore you must have a proper contract of employment in place. Apprentice contracts are slightly different to a typical contract because you need to incorporate clauses surrounding their learning and they are usually fixed term contracts for the duration of the course.
Remember: the employment contract is different to your apprenticeship agreement with the learning provider.
I don't want you to come away from this blog thinking that hiring apprentices is a bad thing, because it's not. It's possibly one of the most valuable ways you can give back to your industry. But I want you to think carefully about whether it's the right move for your business and ensure that the apprentice is as successful as possible.
P.S. if you want some help working out this apprentice stuff, I'd love to help you on a complimentary HR Taster Session.