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Apprenticeships – making them work for your business

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Taking on an apprentice can be a great opportunity for your business, but there are things to consider. We talk to Andy Ingman, master cobbler, about his experiences as he prepares to take on his latest apprentice.

Government incentives for businesses hiring apprentices and growing awareness of the value of apprenticeship schemes are encouraging businesses to consider this as an opportunity to grow their business. Andy Ingman, owner and founder of high-end cobbler, Ingmans, has taken school-leaver apprentices on in the past and is currently applying for his next one.

“It’s an opportunity to give someone their first experience of work and immerse them in your methods and the way you conduct your business,” he says. “The apprentices we’ve had in the past have been school-leavers, coming in at 16, and they’re like sponges, picking up even the most skilful jobs really quickly.”

Finding a good fit

In a retail operation like Ingmans, apprentices are expected to gain a wide range of skills, something that Andy says has become even more important with the events of recent months. “As well as learning the traditional techniques we use, like hand welting, which really sets us apart as a business, our apprentices need to be able to communicate and interact with customers. That’s become really important in building trust, particularly as the business has moved online in response to the pandemic – being able to understand what you’re doing and explain that to the customer, as well as actually having the skills to do it, helps instil trust.”

That’s why, for Andy’s next apprentice, spending four days in the business and a day in college taking a customer service course, is a good fit. And talking about being a good fit, the three-month initial incubation period, says Andy, is really helpful in checking that both apprentice and trainer are aligned in their expectations. “It’s really important that you’re compatible, otherwise neither party will get the most out of the relationship. For us, that’s about them fitting with our workplace culture, being dextrous enough to learn the job, and them being happy working towards what we call the ‘Ingman’s standard’.”

You need to think in terms of investing those funds in the company and in training your apprentice to ensure you get the most out of the scheme,” he says. “Having an apprentice isn’t just about having an extra pair of hands or someone to make the tea, it costs you time and money – in training and supervising them, and in wastage of materials as they learn the trade – but you get out what you put in.

Andy Ingman | Owner and founder of Ingmans

Creating a learning environment

Although the Government offers a financial incentive to businesses hiring an apprentice, Andy explains that it's important not to just see apprentices as a way of generating cash.

“You need to think in terms of investing those funds in the company and in training your apprentice to ensure you get the most out of the scheme,” he says. “Having an apprentice isn’t just about having an extra pair of hands or someone to make the tea, it costs you time and money – in training and supervising them, and in wastage of materials as they learn the trade – but you get out what you put in. Our approach is that we’re all continually learning, which is how we strive for increasing the quality of what we do. That creates a strong and positive environment for apprentices as well as the rest of the team.”

With the creation of standards to replace the previous framework from 2020/21, there’s more clarity around expectations and achievements, that will hopefully help apprentices and companies to make the most of the scheme. The Government has also launched a guide to help apprentices and employers navigate the process, from initial interest, through applying and assessing the scheme’s success.

Benefits for businesses and apprentices

While the opportunities for apprentices, such as gaining on the job experience, and new and transferable skills are perhaps easy to see, apprenticeships can bring significant benefits to businesses too. As well as taking on school leavers, for example, businesses can use the apprenticeship scheme to upskill or retrain existing employees. And, according to Government figures, 86% of employers said that apprenticeships have helped them develop relevant skills, 78% saw productivity improvements, and 74% saw improvements in product or service quality.

Jennifer Crawley, UK Head of Business Management for Small Businesses at HSBC UK, has experience working with the apprentices that bank itself takes on each year as well as hearing from small businesses about their experience.

“We take on apprentices at both foundation and degree level from a range of backgrounds and of different ages,” she explains. “No matter what size of business you are, the key thing is to understand that an apprenticeship is a two-way relationship. As a business, you’ll benefit from finding new talent and people with a different way of thinking who can potentially being new ideas into your business. You’ll get out what you put in, so making sure you’re well prepared and ready and willing to invest time in that apprentice, needs to be a really crucial part of your decision-making.”

Find out more about apprenticeships at https://www.apprenticeships.gov.uk/

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