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Should SMEs Be Saying ‘You’re Hired’ to Apprentices? 


Say ‘apprentice’ and most people will automatically think of the TV series, with Lord Alan Sugar pointing his finger and saying ‘You’re fired’. But far away from the BBC TV series, apprentices are an increasingly important part of the business world.

Basepoint works closely with a whole range of small companies based in our serviced office space in towns including Folkestone, Evesham, Eastcote and Crawley, so we have a strong interest in all issues relevant to SMEs. That includes apprenticeships, which have certainly been in the news lately, with a special emphasis on recruiting more apprentices for small companies.

Campaigns to Raise Awareness of Apprenticeships

The Government Get In Go Far campaign, which is aimed at raising awareness of the benefits of apprentices, and is backed by the Federation of Small Businesses. Whitehall is also bringing in the Apprenticeship Levy, a levy on larger UK employers to fund new apprenticeships. Also, the Government has recently announced it wants apprentices to make up at least 2.3% of the workforce in public sector organisations by 2020, meaning at least 200,000 more will have to be recruited by then.

Some owners of SMEs might be put off by fears about the amount of careful monitoring an apprentice is likely to need, which could represent a bigger strain on resources for the smaller company. Equally, there is the prospect of the apprentice feeling demotivated by being on lower pay and being given all the jobs that nobody else wants do to. And at the other end of the scale, there is always the chance apprentices will just use their placement as a stepping-stone to somewhere else once they finish training.

However, despite a few possible drawbacks, there are also many potential advantages – so, if you decide you do want to hire an apprentice, what are the main benefits?

Training – The Government has allowed firms to set their own training programmes, allowing them to mould employees who will be fit for their own business. Employees who have come to your SME from other companies are far more likely to have picked up bad habits or become resistant to change. The training can be done in-house or via a specialist provider. As schemes are government-backed, it is all overseen by the Office for Standards in Education, which ensures that everything is properly planned and meets high standards.

Technology – Younger apprentices in particular are more likely to be aware of latest developments in areas such as social media, which is an increasingly important area for more SMEs. The new apprentice could also, for instance, help your SME use social media sites to help bring in additional members of staff. This is a particularly cost-effective method if you do not have the recruitment budget of some of the larger companies.

Productivity – Recently-released government figures show 74 per cent of SMEs who employ apprentices have reported increased productivity. Where trainees learn theory side by side with doing practical work, it becomes easier to make improvements. In addition, the figures show that nearly all (96 per cent) of smaller companies who hired an apprentice found benefits, while more than 24,000 private sector SMEs say that hiring apprentices has helped bring in more business.

Local Knowledge – Younger apprentices are more likely to be home-grown and will not have gone away to university, so they can bring valuable local knowledge to the business. They need not necessarily be just a short-term option, since many apprentices stay with the company for many years and may eventually go on to move into management roles there.

Benefits to the Rest of the Workforce – Other members of staff could benefit from a fresh approach to the company an apprentice might bring. Apprentices also ease the workload and could be trained for a specific role which has not been properly filled within your SME. The alternative – getting an existing employee to do the work – might be a case of getting a ‘square peg to fit into a round hole’.

Finance – Schemes allowing apprentices to ‘earn while they learn’ mean they can get paid while learning business-specific skills, not just with your own company, but also at college or with a training organisation. A number of grants and funding schemes are available, so your SME does not have to pay for it all.

The benefits of apprenticeships are two-way, helping both the company and the individual apprentice.

The training gives them a crucial foothold in the world of work and sees them learn business-specific skills which will stand them in good stead in later life. The alternative could be three years spent at university, learning non-vocational skills and having to pay off a sizeable student loan once they do start earning.

If you would like to know more about taking on apprentices, information is available from Government websites. You can also talk to other small businesses who have already taken the plunge via networking with other licensees at Basepoint’s affordable office centres