An Employer’s Perspective on Modern Apprenticeships
When we recognised here at Northstar that we would need additional administrative support in our expanding business, we set about looking in a number of different ways for the right person.
To support the day-to-day running of a growing business, administrative and operations staff need to have special qualities that, we feel, prospective candidates either have or they don’t – excellent organisational skills, a desire to help and common sense. This means that our usual recruitment process of putting an ad on an online recruitment board and waiting for the hundreds of CVs to flood in was not necessarily the best strategy!
After considering other approaches, we eventually came across the modern apprenticeship scheme. Researching the programme further, we realised that it would allow us to find the right person, whilst also offering us significant financial advantages (thanks, in particular, to government support) and would allow us to open up to a group we had previously never really considered – school leavers.
Finding ‘The Right Person’ for an Apprenticeship
If you find the right school leaver, you will get exactly what is required for administration and operations roles: enthusiasm, drive, determination, strong organisational skills and common sense. Contrary to common misconceptions about today’s youth, there are many school leavers in the UK who are keen for a chance to shine and a position where experience and academic achievement is lower on the list of priorities.
We were looking for someone whose potential would be evident from the start, and who could come in and learn, on-the-job, the specific skills that were needed to fulfil the role. In Chloe, our apprentice, we found someone whose first ever job was at Northstar but who took to it very quickly and with minimum guidance, because she had exactly the skillset and potential we were looking for.
One key element of the modern apprenticeship serves the whole process fantastically and benefits both employer and apprentice. Of course, this is the opportunity for the apprentice to complete a nationally recognised qualification (Business Administration in Chloe’s case) as they earn money and gain work experience. So whilst on-the-job training is always very important, educating apprentices in business matters is a real shortcut to some of the topics we would cover at work. Even answering a phone properly, writing a formal versus informal email, all of which seem like little things, are things that the education system just wouldn’t teach people but are so important in office life.
Nurturing Our Apprentice
While there are plenty of advantages from our side to hiring an apprentice, we were also very aware of the need to offer the right support to enable them to grow and develop within the company, particularly as a 16-year-old in a totally new environment.
Chloe worked alongside our Operations Manager, learning what the role entailed as she gradually increased her skill set, which in turn allowed her to take on more and more tasks.
We also wanted to make sure that Chloe felt a part of the whole company, not just the operations team. Northstar is a market research agency, so the rest of our office was not only encouraged to show Chloe what research is all about, but also to get her involved in tasks to assist them so that she could see what the company does and feel involved in our core business.
Mentoring is an important part of day-to-day life within our company. While we have always had an informal mentoring approach, recently we have set in place a concrete mentoring structure, to accommodate growth in our company and also the increasing number of employees under the age of 30.
We recognise that with a high number of young members of staff, relatively new to the working world, if we are to continue our strong record in staff retention, we needed to ensure that our team have someone other than their line manager to turn to, to talk things through with. We see mentoring not just about having someone to talk to, it is also about the mentor helping that person develop as they progress through their career, helping them to refine the necessary skill set to meet their growing responsibilities through guidance or training.
Looking to the Future
It is safe to say that we have had a very positive first experience of the modern apprenticeship scheme; Chloe has now completed her apprenticeship and we were delighted to offer her a full-time role as an accounts assistant.
With the rise in tuition fees and increasing competition for university places, it seems natural that more people will turn to modern apprenticeships. On that basis, we and other employers would be foolish to not look to them as a future source of new employees, to ensure we are not missing out on great talent.
While we will still need to make use of different recruitment approaches to fulfil the various job roles across our business, we would definitely turn to potential apprentices in the future to find dynamic, enthusiastic and eager new employees.