Employing apprentices - a guide for employers

A recent survey by the government has revealed that almost half of UK businesses plan to take on apprentices over the next 5 years.

By Karen Credie, KMCHR.

The research, undertaken by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, found that 44% of businesses will look at taking on an apprentice before 2019. Furthermore, the study suggested that taking on apprentices has increased in popularity in recent times, with 20% of SME’s and 37% of larger businesses saying they plan to do so in the next 12 months.

Employing apprentices can be a great way of taking young people into the business, giving them work experience and training at the same time to help them learn vital skills to take on in their further career.

There are pros and cons to taking on apprentices rather than more experienced staff, some of which are outlined below:

Pros

You can train apprentices from the start to do things your way. Whilst staff with prior experience may get up to speed quicker, they can come with habits learned from other workplaces, which might not necessarily fit in with your way of practice. Apprentices can be trained to follow your methods and procedures from day one, so you can be sure there is no deviation.

Employing an apprentice can be an affordable route to taking on new staff. The National Minimum Wage for apprentice workers under the age of 19 or in the first year of a level 2 or 3 apprentice scheme is £2.68 (due to increase to £2.73 from October 2014). Apprentices that fall outside of these criteria are entitled to the national minimum wage for their age.

In addition, there are Government funded grants available via the National Apprenticeship Service for small and medium sized businesses (less than 250 employees) employing an apprentice for the first time.

Cons

Apprenticeship training schemes involve an aspect of training from an external training organisation/provider. Whilst this is a positive aspect overall, it means that the apprentice is unlikely to be able to work full time hours in the business itself.

There is nothing to stop an apprentice, after they have finished their apprenticeship period, from leaving your organisation. This can be a devastating blow to the business and can be upsetting personally, especially when a great deal of time and effort has been invested in the individual.

When taking on an apprentice, you need to be careful about the type of employment contract that it used. It is not advisable to use standard contracts of employment and instead issue an ‘Apprenticeship Agreement’ (a dedicated type of employment contract that meets requirements specific to apprentices). This is an area employers need to be wary of, and it is advisable to seek specialist advice.

Whilst on the face of it, taking on an apprentice can seem like a cost effective option, you need to balance the fact that there is likely to be a significant amount of on the job training time required, which will take away from your own time or that of another member of staff.

That said, an apprentice can be a very enthusiastic and loyal member of the team and, if nurtured well, bring a boost to more established teams. For more help or advice on employing an apprentice, or indeed recruiting staff in general, please get in touch with us.