Helping Apprentices Rise to the Top
The number of apprenticeships being offered by businesses is on the rise; a recent report suggests a 24% increase in the number of vacancies for apprentices since last year, and with the government firmly backing and encouraging this growth, it seems the rise of apprenticeships isn’t slowing any time soon. But despite more businesses than ever employing apprentices, arguably further efforts are needed to help support these new recruits in using apprenticeships as a platform for reaching their true potential.
While apprenticeships are becoming more popular amongst individuals and businesses, there remains a certain stigma around taking this route and whether it’s intentional or not, it can lead to apprentices often internalise this stigma. The result is highly valuable employees not reaching their potential due to receiving the message that ‘they’re just an apprentice’. However apprentices are an extremely valuable route into work and have numerous benefits for organisations and individuals. To help further reinforce this fact the theme for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week (14th-18th March 2016) is; “an apprenticeship can take you anywhere”, with an emphasis on how apprentices can “rise to the top”, so below we explore what organisations can do to help make that happen.
Encourage their progression
The role of apprentices in bridging skills gaps in companies is well reported, but the individuals fulfilling these roles often have so much more to offer, so give them the opportunity to do so. Make it clear your organisation understands the benefits of having apprentices on board and promote the idea that no matter what, every employee has the potential to achieve more and progress in your business. Holding back talent is one of the biggest mistakes a company can make, and you don’t want to lose your high potential apprentices because you (or they) don’t demonstrate faith in their abilities. Some companies may benefit from establishing specific progression paths for high potential apprentices to follow, or it may simply be a case of actively encouraging apprentices to seek new roles when you and they feel they’re ready.
Training shouldn’t just revolve around technical skills development, although this is obviously important if they are to be able to do their day job well. But if you want to help your apprentices rise to the top and achieve more, technical skills aren’t enough. They also need the professional and interpersonal skills that will enable them to thrive in the workplace. While a lot of this will come from practical experience of working provided during an apprenticeship, organisations also need to be proactive in promoting the skills they believe will help their employees achieve their potential. This may include experiential learning programmes that take apprentices out of their comfort zone and give them the opportunity to stretch and grow organically. Or it may include workshops focussing on different skills to be developed, or attending events and seminars where they can explore these further.
Offer mentoring and coaching
Typically things like mentoring and coaching aren’t offered in most organisations until an employee reaches a certain level or expresses a distinct need for such an intervention. However offering coaching and/or mentoring early on is a proactive approach that employers can utilise to support their apprentice workers from the very start. Due to the fact mentors are usually existing employees in a business, mentoring programmes are often the preferred method because of relative ease of implementation and lower costs. Having a formal mentoring scheme in place will enable you to offer this service more readily to all employees who feel they’d benefit from such support. However coaching can also be a highly useful approach; if employed early on in an employee’s career coaching can help create more effective, confident and engaged employees who can contribute even more effectively to the outcomes of the business. Coaching and mentoring may not be right for every business or individual, but it is a great way of offering targeted support to help apprentices recognise and reach their potential.
One of the main advantages of hiring apprentices is that they can be trained in a highly specific way to fit the exact needs of your business. This is an excellent way of ensuring the business has the necessary skills available to succeed going forward, however it’s important that businesses still work to encourage individuality within their workforce. While firmly inducting employees into the workplace culture is important to help them feel engaged, so too is offering them the encouragement and freedom to use their unique skill-set, experience and abilities to suggest and implement improvements in the organisation. The approach you take with your apprentices will set the standard for how they engage with their work; and making it clear that you want active and free thinking community members rather than mindless automatons will make sure you, and they, are able to achieve more and go further.
There is no limit to how far apprentices can progress in their career with the right attitude from both the individual and the business employing them. But if you don’t make the effort to support them in achieving their best, they may decide to find a company who will. So work in partnership with your apprentice workforce, both past and present, to find the best ways to help them rise to the top and offer them the support to go anywhere they want in their career.