The Government’s apprenticeship levy has been making headlines for a while now, and not all those headlines are positive. However, this shouldn’t put small businesses off employing an apprentice. Here, Laura Neish, HR manager of power tool specialist Starrett, explains how to get the most out of hiring an apprentice. 
 
In October 2017, The Financial Times reported that the number of people starting apprenticeships in the UK had dropped 61 per cent year-on-year since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. The levy has been set at 0.5 per cent of a company’s pay bill for all employers with a wage bill of more than £3 million per year.
 
However, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has said that the introduction has caused some problems for smaller companies too and has called for more financial support for employers creating roles for young apprentices.
 
“Small businesses have a key role in providing apprenticeships across the whole of England and particularly for younger workers, with 70 per cent of those firms that have an apprentice taking on 16 to apprentice19-year-olds,” said Mike Cherry, national chairman of the FSB, speaking to The Financial Times. “Government should reconsider the current funding arrangements and incentives for taking on younger apprentices, recognising that this group needs more support as they move into the workplace for the first time.”
 
Whatever the plan to boost or support the uptake of apprenticeships, the traditional way into any contracting career is with an apprenticeship. Builders, electricians and plumbers all typically start out this way, so the biggest decision for small business owners isn’t so much about whether or not to choose an apprentice, but more about whether your business can support one. 
 
Long-term investment
Hiring an apprentice is a long-term investment, and you need to make sure taking on someone that needs support and training fits into your growth strategy. This means assessing whether you can afford to employ them as well as asking yourself whether you’ll be in a position to offer them a role by the time they’ve completed their training.
 
It’s also important to take the time and assess the workload and projected new business pipeline for your company. Not only do you need to make sure you have enough work for the apprentice so it’s not a wasted investment, you also need to assess whether there is a suitable mentor in the business with the capacity to be partnered with a trainee. 
 
Do your homework
Once you’re sure you have the time, resources and space for an apprentice you should start researching training providers offering the right apprenticeships. Industry specific providers are often the best bet, because you’re more likely to find a selection of candidates to suit your business.
 
You should take the time to understand all aspects of the schemes on offer, because they vary from one provider to another. Some may be more vocational, whereas others may put more of an emphasis on classroom learning. Schemes also vary widely in length, lasting anywhere between twelve months and four years, so make sure you understand the commitment you’re making. 
 
You should also enquire about the kind of training offered by the provider. For instance, do they invite industry experts to share best practice with their apprentices, such as a day with the Starrett team and demo van learning about how to get the most out of power tools. 


 
Choosing your apprentice


Now you’re ready to hire someone. You can advertise apprenticeships directly through training providers, on The National Apprenticeship portal or on any standard jobsite. However, when you have a group of applicants lined up, you then need to make sure you select the best person for your business.
 
One of the best ways to do this is to hold assessment days that include a selection of tasks or activities and culminate in a more formal interview. This will allow you to assess the competency, personality and learning agility of your applicants. If you can involve different members of your staff to run different activities, you also give them chance to feedback on whether they think candidates would be a good fit.
Apprenticeships are the bedrock of our nation’s trade industries. By taking on apprentices, small businesses not only gain the energy and drive of a new employee, they contribute to the continuation of skilled work. Just make sure you do your homework first to avoid gaining a negative reputation like the apprenticeship levy.

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