How to ensure a successful apprenticeship scheme

David Allison shares his advice on how to ensure a successful apprenticeship scheme.

How to ensure your apprenticeship scheme is a success. Photo credit: PA images

When I completed my Master’s Thesis on the impact of training – I of course considered the work of Kirkpatrick Garavan, Phillips and son while reflecting on these many models – but most illuminating were the findings that revealed the most important factors in determining maximum return.

While there were a number of important factors there was one that stood out (statistically) as being far more significant than everything else. So much more important, that it almost made every other factor irrelevant (statistically). That factor was management engagement.

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In organisations where the managers were involved in selecting the right people, spent time understanding the outcomes and pre-briefing the delegate as well as de-briefing them, the results were off-the-scale. So much so that I wasn’t brave enough to quote the real return on investment, but damped it down to a mere 365 per cent ROI in 12 months.

Now this is not rocket science and good learning and development always includes these principles. I have a suspicion, however, that the world of apprenticeships has for many years largely ignored this fact, with a couple of notable exceptions. With a skills system that pumps so much money from government directly to the provider rather than making the employer contribute, line managers’ engagement can be ‘minimal’ at best. With the introduction of the government’s apprenticeship levy in 2017, no matter what the detail eventually says, let’s hope this changes. As a reminder here are some points to consider when planning your apprenticeship programme.

  1. Have a clear rational business plan for taking on apprentices

Any good apprentice programme relies upon organisations (in both the public and private sectors) to have a clear understanding of why they need apprentices and what they want to achieve through these schemes. Whether the aim is to secure a future work force, or as is often the case in the manufacturing sector, to address a short-term skills gap, these objectives must be set out clearly and coherently. By doing so it is not only easier to recruit the right candidate but employers now also have a benchmark by which to evaluate the overall success of the apprenticeship scheme.

  1. Strong partnership between training provider and employer

After defining a business rationale, a strong relationship must be established between the employer and the training partner. Good training providers have always advised, guided and challenged the customer’s preconceptions and expectations.

The most essential and valuable role for the training provider to tailor their content towards the employer’s specific organisational needs and values. This is no simple process; it requires a detailed and deep-seated engagement with the company’s culture, identity and long term plans.

As a judge at the recent Semta Skills Award, I was particularly impressed with Babcock’s partnership, which delivered precisely these principles. They had successfully transferred some of the disciplines associated with the military environment into the engineering and power sector, to the delight of their customers.

This joint delivery between employer and provider is a strong and proven model that will continue to be successful, whenever a training provider strives to become a training partner.

  1. Select the right apprentice

While the candidate is on an apprenticeship, they are also a contracted employee, immediately placing an expectation of commitment on both the employee and the employer.

Time invested into sourcing the right candidate is crucial, in order to ensure they stick out the course and go on to have long-standing careers within the organisation. At present, many employers do not appear to put enough emphasis on their selection of apprentice candidates and this perhaps explains the recent rise in apprenticeship dropout rates, which currently stands at 31.1 per cent. By way of explanation, many of these ‘drop-outs’ may well have been placed in unsuitable roles in industries that did not cater to their skills or preferences. Put simply, they were never a good ‘fit’ for the organisation.

How can an employer or provider expect a young person with a stated interest in IT to stick out a course in retail? A clear understanding of their current motivations and goals is vital in placing candidates within the most suitable roles – it is the selection of the best-fit candidates that is the game changer. This is achieved by asking the right questions at the very beginning of the recruitment process and using this data intelligently over time.  The initial profile can then be modified with interview results, on-line assessments and other techniques that are appropriate to the role under consideration.

This is not difficult or complex; it simply requires more diligence during the process of candidate selection. If this approach were more widely adopted, then the three million apprentices that the government plans to recruit by 2020 would stand a far better chance of completing their apprenticeship delivering value to them and their employers.



Debbie Carter

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