SMEs discuss the benefits of taking on an apprentice

POSTED: 25th July 2014
IN: Business news

With nearly a third of SME employers reporting to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) that skills shortages may threaten their ability to capitalise on the economic recovery, apprenticeships are often touted as a major part of the solution.

undefinedundefinedTo explore the realities of the situation, Aldermore spoke to two British SMEs to hear their thoughts on the benefits of taking on an apprentice, and the hurdles that stood in their way.

Oxford Knowledge Company

“We first looked into getting an apprentice quite late in 2012,” begins Alice Prescott, Sales and Marketing Executive for IT support and consultancy firm The Oxford Knowledge Company. “We’re a small business and our main values are continual progression and learning so it makes sense to have someone on board who’s got the same kind of ambition.”

The company have since recruited two apprentices, Dean and Eliot, to great success though Prescott admits there were some hurdles along the way:

“One of the burdens we had was that as an IT company, we have quite strict specifications, or at least we’d like an apprentice who’s interested in IT, and we did find that we were getting lots and lots of CVs that we were just having to send back because computers weren’t even mentioned at all.”

Happily though, once the company discovered the right candidates, they have really seen the advantages of taking on a fresh new member of the team.

“It’s really great because it means our more technically qualified consultants are freed up for more advanced projects if required, and we haven’t looked back,” Prescott confides, adding, “They take a lot more time: at least initially, there’s a lot more to oversee, but they’re very keen to spread their wings.”

In fact, given the commitment Dean and Eliot have shown within their roles, Prescott sees them continuing on to become vital members of the team in future:

“I think they’ve got a great attitude towards it: they’re keen to progress and therefore if you help them, they help you. We want it to lead to a full time role as well and we’re very happy to support them, like Dean; he did a level three, but now rather than go straight on to work with us he’s carrying on to do a level four apprenticeship and that’s improving our overall team skillset as well.”

Clearview Traffic

“In the sectors we work in, engineering and technology, it’s been quite difficult in recent years to find the kind of calibre of candidate that we want to join our engineering team,” comments Shona Wooding, Market Development Manager at traffic management company Clearview Traffic.

Wooding admits that it can often be difficult to encourage school-leavers to consider science and technology roles, particularly outside of the capital, and the company was keen to find new faces to join the workforce.

“For us it’s bringing in somebody with a fresh approach,” states Wooding, “Also it’s trying to find the right fit for the team: there are lots of people with qualifications but they’re not perhaps the right fit for the business.”

Having made the decision to take on an apprentice, Clearview Traffic attended a session with the Oxfordshire Apprenticeships Organisation.

“They were doing a workshop in Banbury where they had people from apprenticeship organisations, young people that had taken part in apprenticeships and businesses that had taken on apprenticeships,” Wooding shares. “It’s a half-day seminar and it’s quite interesting just to hear about their experiences.”

Encouraged by the session, last September Clearview Traffic discovered Rory, an apprentice who has proven to be invaluable for the company, working with their traffic management technology across the UK’s road network.

“Rory’s had no experience of working with another business so there’s no preconceptions of how things have to happen,” Wooding explains, adding, “Often he’ll come in and look at a job and ask why are we doing it like this, why can’t we do it like that? People say, ‘That’s just the way it’s always been done, but actually that’s a good idea’.”

Despite this positive outcome, Clearview Traffic did face some initial barriers within the apprenticeship hiring process.

“We did have some challenges with the training provider because there’s additional needs that we needed to make sure they could cater to in terms of learning ability, so at first they didn’t think they could meet those,” Wooding mentions, elaborating, “We wanted them to do not just a basic NVQ2, we wanted something a bit more long-term than that because ultimately we want them to stay with the business.”

Having finally come to an agreement with local training provider ATG Training, Wooding describes apprentice Rory as a ‘very enthusiastic, very engaged young man,’ concluding:

“Ultimately, it’s worked out really well, Rory’s got commendation at the end of his initial six month training period from the college so it’s all going really well.”

Aldermore is glad to hear how both the small businesses and enterprising young individuals involved in these cases have benefited from taking part in apprenticeship schemes, and hope many more small businesses will follow their lead to overcome skills shortages.

For further advice on the advantages an apprentice could bring for your business and the support available, contact Oxfordshire Apprenticeships.

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