Once the domain of larger organisations with disposable budgets, apprenticeships are no longer restricted to the big players – and now provide credible solutions for SMEs says Crissi Williams from the Institute of Telecommunications Professionals (ITP).
This year’s National Apprenticeship Week has received nearly 6,000 pledges from businesses across the country vowing to create apprenticeship and traineeship roles within the next twelve months. Back in February, a number of MPs joined the ‘100 in 100’ campaign, agreeing to encourage businesses within their constituencies to create at least 100 of these valuable roles. What’s more, industry surveys show that apprenticeships are a proven, cost-effective means of bringing fresh talent into the sector. But how do you go about recruiting and retaining apprentices, and are cost implications still truly a barrier for SMEs?
As a professional trade body, the ITP has been running its own apprenticeship scheme since 2013. Extensive research with telecoms businesses revealed a glaring lack of schemes operating specifically in our sector. The programme, launched with support from BT, Virgin Media, Cable &Wireless and Damovo; has created more than 50 jobs in over 20 organisations who weren’t previously able to gain access to telecoms apprentices.
Hiring an apprentice is a long-term investment, and many organisations we work with see it as an ideal opportunity to create a workforce trained from scratch – shaping employee’s work habits from the offset and aligning them with company culture. Research from the National Apprenticeship Service also shows that 90% of employers feel that apprenticeships are a great way to ensure a constant flow of suitably trained staff.
There is also an overwhelming case which demonstrates that companies employing apprentices have a lower staff turnover, fewer skills-related vacancies and reduced recruitment costs: 83% of employers who hire apprentices rely on their apprenticeship programme to provide the skilled workers that they need for the future.
What’s more, the same survey revealed that 90% of employers see apprenticeships as their way of ‘giving something back’ – addressing CSR targets.
Whether a large corporate or SME, a highly trained workforce is essential. The benefits of the apprenticeship schemes is that most come with associated qualifications, so employees are learning on the job. The ITP scheme offers recognised level 3 and 4 diplomas in Telecommunications & IT to its participants.
Steve Hayden, MD of Green Telecom, started his career as an apprentice and as one of the first organisations to sign up to the ITP scheme back in 2013 echoes this “An apprentice who is willing to learn should potentially have a long term fulfilling career and will be an asset to a small business. An apprentice will have fresh ideas to bring to the table and can be trained to fit in with the company.”
Arguably the biggest barrier to recruiting apprentices is cost, particularly for SMEs who fear the financial implications of such a commitment. However, the Government provides full funding for training a 16-19 year old, and 50% funding for a 19-23 year old provided they are on an approved programme. The National Apprenticeship Service will also provide up to 40,000 apprenticeship grants to small-medium (under 1000) sized employers recruiting 16-23 year olds, with a value of £1,500 (for each apprentice).
Another turn off can be the perceived recruitment time and costs, admin and organisation involved in finding training places at colleges. This was one of the drivers behind the launch of our scheme, and where we wanted to be able to add value to the industry. Therefore, we recruit apprentices, with input from employers, and also take care of the admin and the training elements, providing mentors and assessors throughout the apprentice’s journey.