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Apprenticeships are a popular way to develop skills of all kinds within a business.
Improving your apprenticeship programme can help you attract more apprentices and more effectively support them on their journey so that everyone involved can get the most out of the apprenticeship scheme. But how do you do that?
As Investors in People accredited company, Morgan Motor Company found, apprenticeships help businesses protect valuable skills long term, grow specialist skills that can’t be taught elsewhere, and increase workplace diversity.
Morgan Motors Company Chief of Staff, Nick Morgan, notes:
‘Not only is it a way to allow people to learn new skills, but it also sustains some of our really important heritage skills in the business, from the coach working, to the woodworking, to the leather work that we put into our cars.’
In this post, we’ll look at what changes you can make to enhance your apprenticeship scheme so that you can get better results from it and your apprentices.
Existing apprenticeship structures and challenges
Present government data measures the success of an apprenticeship scheme linearly, focusing on the percentage of apprenticeships completed.
The data doesn’t factor in things like early promotions, learners’ experiences, productivity, pay rises, someone changing subjects, or when they change employer.
A scheme could therefore be more successful than it appears, for instance if it has a high rate of promotions or pay rises, but it may look less successful because its completion data is lower than average.
If someone starts an apprenticeship with one business, then completes it in another, this is registered as both a failure and a completion, further skewing the data. This makes it harder for businesses to track the success of their schemes and how effectively they help their apprentices.
The completion data is also grouped by the total number of apprenticeships. There’s no industry-specific data, making it hard to measure the outcomes of apprenticeships in different industries.
There’s also no information on apprentice experience or wellbeing.
What can impact apprenticeship development?
Government data has found a decrease in the number of apprentices signing up since the 2015/2016 academic year1.
Not only that, but recent research by St Martin’s Group estimates the dropout rate is around 50%. This isn’t always related to the quality of an apprenticeship, but apprentice experience is a big factor.
Businesses therefore need to consider the apprentice experience if they want to attract more apprentices and help more of them over the finish line.
St Martin’s Group found that the most common reason apprentices don’t complete their apprenticeship is a lack of employer support, followed by a high workload.
To solve this, businesses need to explore how they can create a positive apprenticeship experience to improve morale and wellbeing within the workplace.
How to improve your apprenticeship standards
How do you ensure you get the most out of your apprenticeship scheme, and therefore your apprentices?
Here are some suggestions from our We invest in apprenticeships framework, internal experts, our clients, industry standards, and the latest research:
Know the business case
What’s the business case for hiring apprentices?
Apprentices, like any other employee, should be hired for a reason that reflects company values. They should be supported just as much as they support the business.
When you’re hiring for a new role, ask yourself if that person could be an apprentice instead of a full-time employee.
Karen Davies, head of talent and development at HS2 finds that apprenticeships are:
‘a way to bring in new and diverse ways of thinking. It’s also an opportunity to upskill existing employees as well in perhaps areas where you’ve got skills shortages.’
Create an effective induction
An induction process that lays out how everything will work during the scheme ensures apprentices know what you expect of them, and what they can expect in return. This clarity helps them stay focused on day-to-day activities and their long-term objectives.
Give them off-the-job time to study
Time away from the workplace, or at least active work, is key to apprentices achieving their goals. 49% of people who finished their apprenticeship had this separate time to study and complete their assignments.
Ben Godfrey, Product Consultant at Investors in People, said:
‘Within apprenticeships, it works out 6 hours of every working week you either go to college or you’re studying. Your line manager has to be really good at understanding that. It’s not that you’ve got deadlines and you’re going to miss a couple of weeks. They need to understand those hours aren’t on top of your working week, they’re part of it.’
Understanding, and embracing, this difference is vital to the success of any apprenticeship scheme.
Help them manage their workloads
Organise regular one-to-ones with line managers
Middlesex Cricket Club has three apprentices and found that ‘when you take an apprentice on their journey, they understand the ethos of the company, what you’re trying to work towards, and they also understand that they’re there to learn. And they learn all the best bits off the coaches that are working, and they start to form their own sort of vision of how they want to work, and it brings a real energy to what we do.’
When line managers regularly check in with apprentices, it helps them feel supported and included within the business. Apprentices also get to learn from existing expertise and adapt it to suit their situation.
It also gives them the opportunity to share any problems they may be experiencing that could cause them to leave, such as a high workload, not enough study time, or a lack of support.
You can use this time to consider their broader support needs so that they can perform at their best, too.
Make sure everyone communicates
Clear communication is one of the foundations of success in any role. With apprentices juggling work and studies, clear communication between them, their employer, and their training provider ensures everything is focused on helping them succeed.
Sharing information and feedback in a timely manner is also important. The sooner you share information, the sooner they can act on it. It also means they’re more likely to remember it, and learn from it, next time.
Provide mentoring or a support network
36% of apprentices who were supported with a workplace mentor, or broader support network, went on to complete their apprenticeship.
St Martin’s Group also found that more than a third of apprentices who left would’ve stayed if they’d had more support from their employer.
Support can make a huge difference not only to someone’s productivity and skills, but also to their mental health.
It makes them feel less alone in challenging situations, reduces stress, and can offer solutions they may not have otherwise considered.
‘Tailored events within the employer/training provider/educational institution partnership that vocalise the struggles an apprentice can go through, and how an apprentice can get the best experience for their career progression, can help. For example, many apprentices do not know how to utilise their soft skills to bring the best outcomes in their career progression – this is an area within which an employer or training provider can offer apprenticeship mentoring as a valuable source of support and experienced insight.’
Ensure apprentices get support from their training provider or tutor
With over 2000 training providers available, be sure that you pick the right one for your apprentices.
It can help to look for a training provider that offers:
- National coverage. If you have a business that’s based across the country, you need a national provider who can cater to your needs.
- Quality of provision. You can check their Ofsted rating to find out more about this.
- A good reputation. Are they well respected in your industry? How do previous apprentices feel about their tutors or the provider as a whole.
- Awards and accreditations. Any awards or accreditations a provider has will tell you about its standards and quality.
- Sector-specific experience. A specialist provider will have a greater understanding of your needs and be better able to support you and your apprentices.
- Additional services. How else could they support you or your apprentices?
Exceptional training providers offer apprentices support from someone who’s dedicated to what they’re doing, or who’s been there before. This can give apprentices a direction, motivation, and moral support they can’t find anywhere else.
Challenge and recognise the apprentice’s abilities
To fully challenge someone so that they can grow, you first need to recognise what their skills are. Then, you can find the right situations to develop their skills and help them thrive in their role.
You can analyse someone’s skills by looking at how they tackle different activities. The areas they’re less confident in, or where they make more mistakes, will suggest areas they need to work on.
Give them a direction
What does the future look like for them? What are the milestones they need to hit?
When someone knows what direction they should be heading in, it makes it a lot easier for them to focus on, and complete, the scheme.
Taking the time to write down their milestones, and put it somewhere easy to find, ensures they have a reference guide to remind them of what they’re aiming for.
The contents of this guide could be informed by what they, their manager, and their training provider feel their strengths and areas for improvement are, and what knowledge/skills they need to complete the scheme.
Celebrating successes – big and small – shows apprentices you’ve noticed what they’re doing, value their presence at the company, and you’re there to support them when they need it.
You could do this with internal or external communications congratulating them, an awards ceremony, or even a party with their friends and colleagues.
Offer a holistic approach
Providing a holistic approach to apprenticeships means supporting apprentices across all areas of the business. This includes all levels of management, training providers, coaches, or mentors, fellow apprentices, and cross-organisational functions.
If you’d like some help promoting the positive impact your scheme has in the workplace, check out our guide on demonstrating the benefits of an apprenticeship scheme.
We invest in apprentices
At Investors in People, we take a holistic approach. It’s about supporting apprentices to maximise their potential, from the recruitment process, right through to ensuring apprentices have the best career or progression options at the end.
Our We invest in apprenticeships framework helps organisations assess their strengths and weaknesses so that they can continuously improve their apprenticeship scheme.
It also reassures future apprentices that a scheme is of a high-quality, that they’ll be treated respectfully, and that their wellbeing will be supported while they grow their skills.
Working towards Platinum accreditation helped supermarket chain Iceland: ‘re-focus what is important for our apprenticeship scheme.’
The framework consists of three areas: commitment, development, and communication.
Development is all about helping apprentices perform at their best. How can you support them with the right objectives? What can you do to get line managers onboard? How can you support them with their assessments?
Fostering good relationships between apprentices, line managers, and training providers boosts morale and how supported apprentices feel in their role. They’re therefore more likely to stay and succeed.
Improving the apprenticeship experience should be at the forefront of any organisation’s strategy for recruiting talent.
To do that, you need to ensure there’s a clear business case for every apprentice hired and that you support them every step of the way, from giving them enough time to study, to helping them learn new skills, to celebrating their successes.
An effective apprenticeship scheme includes on-the-job and off-the-job training. Whether someone is new to the world of work, or retraining, they should complete their apprenticeship confident in their new skills in a new industry.