Today (18 March) marks the end of National Apprenticeship Week, the annual event that promotes the benefits to workers and employers of apprentices. As the awareness drive reaches its climax, an industry expert is urging owners of small businesses to consider implementing an apprenticeship scheme of their own.
According to Tracy Ewen, managing director of specialist SME financial solutions provider IGF Invoice Finance, small and medium-sized firms can benefit their business, as well as the local community an economy.
Press ahead despite worries
She is urging employers to consider their options – as well as the advantages they will reap – despite concerns surrounding reforms that will see businesses with wage bills of more than £3 million a year liable for a 0.5 per cent apprenticeship levy.
In addition, small businesses will have to bear the brunt of the National Living Wage, which comes into effect next month.
Ewen has outlined a number of key considerations aimed at helping SMEs to combat these problems:
- Find an apprentice to complement the business and identify their role
“Businesses should really consider the value of offering an apprenticeship that is worthy and finding a candidate that complements the rest of the team from the outset, rather than looking for a ‘temporary fit’ as this will always prove a better investment,” said Ewen.
- Build links with education facilities
“Forming a relationship with a local school or college is truly beneficial if a younger candidate is appropriate, as many colleges are keen to assist with student employment ventures, and will be able to recommend suitable candidates from within the student body,” she added. “It is also important to consider alternative organisations, such as extracurricular development opportunities, which can be an excellent resource of local, untapped talent.”
- Give an apprentice a full range of experience
“It is crucial to remember the importance of varied exposure throughout the duration of the scheme,” Ewen said. “Ideally, a scheme would last for a period of 12 months, allowing an apprentice to undertake work in several areas of the business, in addition to completing any training modules or relevant qualifications that would be beneficial to climbing the career ladder in a particular industry.”
- Seek additional support to get started
Ewer said: “There is a great deal of support available for small businesses to implement a scheme – for businesses with fewer than 50 employees, the government can offer funding to assist with setting up an apprenticeship programme. This additional support can help an organisation to improve its bottom line, and can make an apprenticeship scheme a particularly cost-effective business decision in the long term.”
- Consider where skills gaps lie in your business
“Teams in businesses of any size often suffer from a skills gap, particularly in more digital areas such as coding and social media,” commented Ewen. “Hiring an apprentice provides an excellent opportunity to train an individual to bridge this gap, instead of training an existing member of staff alongside their current workload. This also means that training costs are reduced and there is no drop in efficiency, as the rest of the team will continue as usual.”