Encouraging young workers is key to successful apprenticeship schemes. Peter Cosgrove offers some advice.
In 1999, Glendale Liverpool formed a joint venture with Liverpool City Council and was tasked with maintaining the city’s green spaces. As part of this agreement, Glendale vowed to work with young people across the city, offering training and opportunities to those who might otherwise have none.
Over the last 16 years, Glendale Liverpool has gone on to produce an award-winning apprenticeship programme and a pre-apprenticeship scheme for 16- to 17-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). As the manager of Glendale Liverpool, I am particularly passionate about setting up career opportunities for young people through these apprenticeships. Seeing our young people grow, develop and become successful in their careers is incredibly rewarding.
Adam Ryan, who has graduated from apprentice to employee at Glendale, believes his reality would be very different without having been given the opportunity to access the training programme. When Adam came to Glendale, he lacked direction and found it difficult to settle in. Having changed colleges regularly after leaving school, this was the first time Adam felt committed to a project, which in itself was new and challenging.
Like Adam, the young people who apply for these apprenticeships are not in education, employment or training and many are from quite disadvantaged backgrounds, meaning they can often lack the enthusiasm and drive that most employers expect. Motivating these young people can be difficult but there are many motivational techniques that can be employed in the workplace to help build work ethic and ensure young people reach their potential.
The most important thing is to create a positive and upbeat working environment. Generally, young employees respond well to positivity and will work better and be more productive. Encouraging teamwork within your workforce is essential in boosting team spirit and creating a relaxed, positive environment where young people feel comfortable in the work environment.
However, encouraging independence and freedom in your employees is also important, as this will inspire employees to take responsibility for their own experiences and instil a sense of maturity and self-importance. Giving young people responsibility is key in encouraging them to take their role seriously and motivating them to work harder and progress professionally.
Mark Threlfall is one of Glendale’s young apprentices. After being told of the opportunity at Glendale Liverpool by Connexions, he jumped at the chance of becoming an apprentice. He has now completed the pre-apprenticeship stage, and moved on to the first stage of the apprenticeship with a hope of progression to the second stage in the next year. Mark is grateful for this opportunity and appreciates the effect of being welcomed into a structured working environment.
“The apprenticeship scheme has changed things for me in a sense that it has provided me with a routine and put me on the straight and narrow. Instead of staying up all night, sitting about and sleeping all day, it has made me aware that there are other things, like I can be up early and be in work. It’s helped me with being places on time and helped my attendance levels,” he said.
Employees should have the confidence to trust their employer and feel comfortable within the work environment. Glendale understands how important this is, particularly as many of the young people taking part in the apprenticeship schemes have lacked stable, comfortable environments growing up and often require a higher level of consistency and support. Employers should be transparent and available to their staff and should be there to diffuse any conflicts between employees, ensuring a healthy work environment is restored quickly.
At Glendale, extra professional and personal support can also be achieved through our mentoring scheme, where a specific person is assigned to an employee with a view to offering pastoral care as well as work-related guidance. Very often, the more employers invest in their employees, the more they will receive in return.
One of the reasons a lot of young people lack motivation or enthusiasm at the beginning of their career is due to nerves about starting a job or the stress of a new environment. Therefore getting the work environment right is extremely important in ensuring these young people get their careers off to a good start. Judging the right level of relaxed and serious is imperative; if the atmosphere is too relaxed, the young person won’t take the work seriously but if the atmosphere is too serious, employers risk young people becoming intimidated and disengaged at the outset.
A great way to encourage motivation and productivity in young people is by setting them goals, as this instils self-motivation and provides them with a sense of achievement when they reach them. It creates some healthy competition between the work team, as they will be determined to reach the goal first, ultimately increasing motivation and productivity. The goals set should be reasonable and achievable to avoid team members becoming disheartened if they do not reach them, but should also challenge employees and inspire determination.
Graduate apprentice, Adam attributes one of the reasons he loves his job to the fact that ‘there is always something to learn’. When there is little space for young people to become complacent or bored and they are gaining valuable knowledge that can then be put into practice, they are more likely to stay focused and driven.
Long-term goals are also useful as a way of maintaining the interest and enthusiasm of young people. When Adam graduated, part of his new role included being a mentor to apprentices. By giving young people mentoring roles, they are more likely to stay engaged; the mentor gains confidence from the new position and the mentee is given somebody to look up to, not just for the first-hand knowledge they can impart but also as an embodiment of a potential role for the future. Long-term goals are important in instilling ambition in young people and encouraging them to look forward and think about how their actions in the present can influence what happens in the future.
However, targets alone may not be enough to help motivate young people. It is often helpful to offer incentives to achieve set goals. A lot of employers offer incentives in the form of cash prizes or gift vouchers, but non-financial motivations can also be offered, such as extra holiday or compressed work weeks. Incentives should only be given if the employee has truly earned them. Giving out incentives too often, or if the employee has not actually achieved their goal, will lessen their value and may cause employees to lose motivation.
Making goals and offering incentives to reach these goals shows employees that you recognise their achievements, which is a very important motivational technique, especially among young employees. This allows them to feel appreciated and reminds them they are doing a good job, encouraging them to continue in the same spirit. There are other ways to recognise employees’ achievements other than incentives, such as having an employee of the month, celebrating these achievements at staff meetings or by handing out certificates.
Team building activities are a motivational technique used by many employers. These help to build team morale and encourage employees to work together towards common goals, which can help in creating a positive work environment and increase collective productivity. A lot of employees agree that team building exercises are important as they will be working together most of the time and need to be a strong team. While these can be carried out during work hours, it may also be a good idea to run additional team activities at the weekends. Employees could be given options as to what they think would be most enjoyable and valuable. It’s important to remember that team building activities should be enjoyable – why not take the team out go-karting or bowling? Whenever employers create an atmosphere where employees are working together, even if recreationally, the effects of building team spirit will filter into their professional work.
On a wider scale, employers should not underestimate the power of their company’s branding and the influence that might have on young people. If the company represents itself as relevant, and upholds this image through website design and other branding methods, then this will no doubt have an effect on its workforce of young people. Even having an active Facebook or Twitter page allows digital citizens to interact with peers and share evidence of their work on their own pages, giving them a sense of pride, purpose and earning them respect on social media.
The recent Glendale Liverpool Annual Recognition Awards attracted media attention, and was featured in local and national publications. As a pre-apprentice, Mark attended the awards and spoke of how the ceremony opened the eyes of the newest members of the scheme. Mark appreciates that the company are prepared to ‘show their gratitude to you through telling you how much of a valued worker you are to them’.
He added that ‘being given a reward at the ceremony is a boost in confidence and morale because it gives you motivation to then go out and keep doing what you’re doing’. Giving young people recognition, as part of a prestigious event, which is recognised in itself, is often the catalyst that makes all the difference in inspiring young people to stay motivated and ambitious.
It is also worth noting, that for many young people who were previously not in education, employment or training, these ceremonies may be the first time they have been recognised for their achievements in their life. For those who struggle academically, attaining traditional qualifications and having those achievements celebrated simply doesn’t happen. In light of this, employers must make an extra effort to reassure their young employees that, in this area, practical experience is just as important as the academic qualifications which they may have struggled to attain at school.