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Should your small business hire an apprentice?


An apprenticeship is a nationally recognised training programme that combines real work with learning and training. More than two million apprenticeships have been created in the UK under a government programme set up in 2010. Taking an apprentice on can work wonders for your small business without breaking the bank.

Cheaper than hiring a full-time employee, but usually only part time

Apprentices usually work between 16 and 30 hours a week and must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage which, for those between 16 and 18 years old in their first year, is currently £2.73 an hour. The rate is updated every October.

The CEO of gas specialists 1Gas, Richard Hearne was struggling with the 300% annual growth of his business, relying on just 12 employees. “I struggled to keep on top of demand, but the thought of paying a full-time wage was rather daunting,” he says.

He’s since taken on Derry Mulloy in business administration and Dan Carter in customer service through Brighton & Hove training college which he says have been fundamental to the growth and success of the business. They’re both in full-time roles with the company today, which is turning over £1.2m.

“Without the aid of apprenticeships, the costs of hiring non-apprentice employees would have been much more difficult,” says Hearne.

However, the very point of having an apprentice is that it is a part-time role and, therefore, will not provide the same nature of support as a full-time employee. For the apprentice themselves, their studying will also take much longer.

Giving an opportunity to a young person and boosting the economy

Going to university for further study is not for everyone. An apprenticeship is an alternative type of training for others who want to continue to study, but are keen to get in the workplace and start earning too.

“We took on our first apprentice three years ago, as we wanted to ‘put something back’,” says Debbie Williams, co-founder of John Williams Heating Services.

The company took on Kieran Simon, 19, on a plumbing and heating apprenticeship. He works part time, and goes to college to continue his studies during the rest of the week.

“An apprenticeship is a good opportunity and a clear route to a career,” says Simon. “I learn more on-site than I do at college; it helps to visually and physically get a feel for things.”

Despite this, apprenticeships tend to be provided for more vocational subjects which require or benefit from on-the-job training such as skilled labour work or business-specific roles. This learning style is not suited to everyone, or every business.

But with 16% of people aged between 16 and 24 not employed, in education or training (around 750,000), hiring an apprentice is a great way to give something back to the community and help train the next generation.

A chance to train new staff on the job

Apprentices can play an important role by ensuring they are tailored to your business needs and can guarantee some stability for the medium-term. With proper training and support, your staff retention should also improve.

However, there are risks. Some student may not want to finish the placement and drop out early because they are either unsuited to the role or simply do not enjoy it. There’s also the potential for mistakes to be made too with inexperienced, younger staff, and it will take a toll on your resources to train a new member from scratch.

“They are an expense to the business and don’t earn any money, however, in the long term we are training the work force of the future,” says Williams, whose husband started out as an apprentice.

Help and grants

Hiring an apprentice can be a risk, as the leap from school to the workplace is a big one. Both parties must ensure they are clear about expectations of the role, and small businesses must ensure the quality of training is up to scratch too to guarantee funding.

Help is available from a number of places.

In England, you can get a £1,500 apprenticeship grant if you’re a small business, for up to 10 apprentices. Jobs Growth Wales is a six-month paid apprenticeship for young people not in education or employment, which is paid for by the Welsh Government depending on the type of placement on offer.

Skills Development Scotland’s Modern Apprenticeship scheme can pay the costs of the training your apprentice. They also offer £1,500 through the Employer Recruitment Incentive to hire young people with a disability, or a £2,000 grant for taking on an apprentice made redundant.

Whether that will be enough to cover your apprentice will depend on the amount of hours your apprentice works. You may end up forking out more in training costs from your own pocket.

“Taking on an apprentice is actually a cost effective route and provides a win-win situation for employer and candidate,” says Bertie Stephens, founder and chief executive of e-commerce company Flubit.com, which has recruited a number of apprentices.

The company teamed up with the Mayor of London supported Tech City Stars scheme which links technology-based businesses with candidates keen to get on the career ladder.

“The apprentice gets valuable real-world experience working for an innovative, dynamic tech start-up,” says Stephens. “We’re getting enthusiastic, tech-savvy members of the team who can make an impact and play a part in our success.”

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