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Hiring an apprentice. Is it good for business?

More than 872,000 people were employed on government-funded apprenticeships, with nearly 30,000 people working towards attaining highly valued skills via higher and degree apprenticeships in the 2014/15 academic year

As apprenticeships gain momentum across many business sectors, last issue, PrintIT Reseller asked the channel for their thoughts and this month, it’s the OEMs’ turn to talk about take-up within the print and IT industry.

Sharp Apprenticeships
Sharp Apprenticeships

PITR: Do you currently employ apprentices or do you intend to in the near future?

Louise Marshall, Infrastructure & Shared Services Director, Brother UK: “Brother UK has been building an apprentice programme now for about three years, covering all types of apprenticeship from traditional (via colleges) to modern (via academies).

“We have a business objective to have a minimum of 5 per cent of the workforce coming via apprenticeships, and are already close to achieving this for the current financial year. We strongly believe that recruiting via apprenticeships is beneficial for our business, as it allows us to bring in new talent in a very structured way that accommodates for the development that is needed, through the academic elements of their apprenticeship. It also helps to give us the diversity we believe is beneficial to our operation, through the introduction of younger people with fresh ideas (and lots of confidence and energy), and the ability to adapt to the ever changing workplace.”

Sandra Rogers, Human Resources Manager, KYOCERA Document Solutions: “We have offered apprenticeships in the past and we are currently looking to reintroduce an apprenticeship scheme.

Sandra Rogers, Human Resources Manager, KYOCERA Document Solutions
Sandra Rogers, Human Resources Manager, KYOCERA Document Solutions

“KYOCERA was founded on the philosophical basis that commercial success and the material and spiritual fulfilment of its employees are inextricably linked to acting as a responsible corporate citizen within society. As well as helping the environment, this includes striving for social improvement within the communities in which we operate, including Reading, London and Manchester in the UK.

“Apprenticeships really fit in with this ethos, as they provide a wider benefit to the apprentice’s family and wider community that goes further than the direct benefit they bring to our company. This is why we have plans to reintroduce an apprenticeship programme in the very near future.”

Sarah Coates, UK HR Manager, Sharp Business Systems UK: “Yes – Sharp has an apprentice programme in place. We currently have five apprentices in our service division; four are focused on hardware and one on software. We have a new intake of two apprentices due to start in October 2016. We hire the successful apprentices (i.e. those that pass their NVQ and practical tests) after one years’ service, and they then become employed trainee engineers for two years. We hired three apprentices in 2015 who are currently undertaking their two year training programme and will become fully fledged service engineers next year. One is female which is great to see in this field.

“We also run a three year IT apprentice programme at our Head Office in Wakefield, during which apprentices are supported to complete their NVQ Level 4 qualifications, and we have just started a commercial scheme where apprentices learn the administration behind the sales ordering process, as well as data analysis and preparing pricing for customers. We are always looking to expand our apprenticeship offering into other areas of the business, and we are currently exploring opportunities within the European marketing team.”

Andrew Marchant, Talent Development & Programmes Manager, Xerox Europe and Great Britain: “Xerox UK’s current apprenticeship programme started in 2012 and since that time ten young people have completed their L3 and L4 apprenticeships with us in business administration and IT.

“We currently employ 16 apprentices in the UK actively working and learning in our customer service, large enterprise and finance organisations. The apprenticeship programme is a key part of our talent development strategy to grow the next generation of managers and leaders for our business.”

PITR: The National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) cites a number of business benefits associated with hiring apprentices, including the fact that 92% of employers taking on apprentices noticed a more motivated workforce and 80% saw an increase in productivity in the workplace. What has been your experience?

Louise Marshall: “I would agree that working with apprentices has a number of business benefits, and am not surprised to see the figures quoted. There is an impact on our talent pipeline, allowing people to come into the business and build up the necessary skills and experience to then take on a permanent role, without the need for external recruitment.

Louise Marshall, Infrastructure & Shared Services Director, Brother UK
Louise Marshall, Infrastructure & Shared Services Director, Brother UK

“By coming in as an apprentice they are closely mentored and provided with a level of support that means they get a very in depth understanding of the business and in a variety of areas, so they are well prepared for a number of roles (not just in relation to the area where they served their apprenticeship).

“In addition to this we have seen benefits for the employees that work with the apprentices – they get the satisfaction of passing on skills and knowledge that they have developed over the years and as a result they are more engaged with the wider business.”

Sandra Rogers: “Our initial experience of hiring apprentices has been very positive. We found that our apprentices were very engaged in training, gaining hands on experience and getting involved in the company overall.

“In our experience, hiring new bright talent in the form of apprentices can’t help but impact on the rest of our workforce, as apprentices bring fresh enthusiasm, ideas and attitude which really helps to add to our existing teams.”

Sarah Coates: “We have gained a tremendous amount from our apprentices who are vital to our growth as a business. Feedback from existing engineers is that the apprentices bring new ideas and new energy to the team and the benefits also extend to our experienced engineers who gain personal development as they coach and mentor the apprentices. We find that our apprentices are always highly motivated and productive.”

Andrew Marchant: “Our experience has been and continues to be, a very positive one. We work with the NAS and our training providers to deliver and continuously develop our apprenticeship programme. We have a retention rate of over 80 per cent; apprentices that have finished their apprenticeship have moved into a varied number of roles including customer service engineer, pre and post sales analyst, our sales graduate programme, service delivery executive, customer support specialist and bids executive.

“This talent was identified, grown and is being retained as a direct result of the apprenticeship programme. The effect on the existing workforce is very positive as all who interact with the apprentices are keen to support their development by sharing their experience in order to help them grow.”

PITR: 83% of apprentice employers believe that they are investing in the future of their business. What are your views on developing apprenticeships to build key skills within your company?

Louise Marshall: “I would agree that apprenticeships are a key building block of skills development within the Brother UK business – as part of our ongoing work on learning and development, which led to our Investors In People Platinum accreditation and to being awarded the first ever Platinum Employer of the Year award at the recent IIP event.

“We strongly believe that diversity is key to our future and apprenticeships allow us to combine a unique blend of academic and practical skills, which perfectly complements the other L&D activities we have, including volunteering, recognition of working in kinetic teams and more traditional training routes.

“Key to the success of this is choosing the right apprentice provider – we work with a number of providers from the very traditional routes via local colleges and universities (who we are working with on some adult apprenticeships), through to the academies who are providing a range of services that help to prepare young people for the world of work (like bootcamps).

“Each provider brings a different approach that is relevant to the specific apprenticeship and it is important to have that variety so you can consider apprenticeships in all areas of the business – from marketing, electronic engineering, IT and digital, through to administration and customer service.”

Sandra Rogers: “We absolutely believe that developing apprenticeships is key to building core skills within our company. While there are many people with the skills already out there, there are benefits to building the skills in house and sometimes effort and attitude are far more important than having those skills in the first place.

“This again fits in perfectly with our company philosophy, as helping people to gain skills to enable employment is beneficial to not only the individuals, but also their families and the wider community. Often young people find it difficult to break into the industry, especially when they don’t have a lot of previous expertise. Many of our current employees themselves started out their careers on an apprenticeship programme.”

Sarah Coates: “We see apprentices as a crucial channel for building our future. Our priority is to give each apprentice a dedicated coach and mentor to ensure that they receive the attention and quality time required and this means that we unfortunately have to limit the number of apprentices we take on to ensure that we do not overstretch in this respect.”

Andrew Marchant: “This is absolutely why we have an apprenticeship programme. In many cases we are upskilling the apprentices beyond what they need just for today, we are skilling them for that future.”

Andrew Marchant, Talent Development & Programmes Manager, Xerox Europe and Great Britain
Andrew Marchant, Talent Development & Programmes Manager, Xerox Europe and Great Britain

PITR: How do you balance apprenticeships alongside investment in other areas of workforce training?

Louise Marshall: “Apprenticeships complement our other training programmes. In fact we have employees who are getting recognition for the role they play in developing and mentoring apprentices and have the time they spend included in their own personal development plans. We have seen that working with these younger people is having a two-way benefit, where we gain a better understanding of the cultural difference with different generations, which helps us in other aspects of our business, from the sales approach we take, through to the type of customer support we offer and the way we communicate with existing and potential customers.”

Sandra Rogers: “In terms of the way we structure our investment, any investment in apprenticeships is treated as additional to any general business needs training.”

Sarah Coates: “We have other external avenues such as our intern programme, our graduate scheme and new for next year, under graduates which also bring vital new skills to our business. We have a long serving and loyal workforce so we also invest in our people to build new skills and develop existing skills.”

Andrew Marchant: “Our Apprenticeship Programme is just one facet of our comprehensive talent development strategy and fits very well with our business direction and strategy.”

PITR: In spring 2017 the way the government funds apprenticeships in England is changing. Larger employers will be required to contribute to a new apprenticeship levy, and those that are too small to pay it will have 90% of the costs of training paid for by the state. Extra support, worth £2,000 per trainee, will also be available for employers and training providers who take on 16 to 18 year-old apprentices or young care leavers. There have been concerns expressed that this may impose additional administrative red tape on smaller firms and discourage them from taking on apprentices at all. What are your views? Will this change the way you view apprenticeships/prompt you to hire or stop hiring?

Louise Marshall: “We have been closely following the introduction of the new levy and whilst there is still some detail to be fully understood, we will continue with the approach we have started and will continue to develop our apprentice programme, for all the reasons above and the benefits we can gain as a business.

Sharp Apprenticeships
Sharp Apprenticeships

“There will no doubt be an increase in administration as a result of its introduction, but we believe that for companies like Brother UK who have embraced apprenticeships, there could be additional benefits. As well as raising awareness of apprenticeships, if the levy is used to develop new apprentice programmes, then all businesses can benefit from them, hopefully in subjects where historically we have had some challenges.

“In addition we believe that the new levy will introduce some standards to enable employers to tailor apprenticeships to suit the roles they have available, rather than always being through rigid frameworks as they have in the past.”

Sandra Rogers: “The new government funding methods will not change our view on apprenticeships. Rather than focusing on the costs or administrative resource necessary to recruit apprentices, we believe it is a good way to give back to the communities in which we are based while also recruiting the employees of the future to help us to grow our skills as a company.

“It can be difficult to recruit the right people with the right skill set combined with a genuine desire to develop and grow with our company, and apprenticeship programmes offer us a great way to identify young talent which is vital for our continued growth.”

Sarah Coates: “We see this as a positive move forward, primarily because it has again opened the debate about apprentices. It will not impact on our current programmes as we already spend over and above the levy that will be charged to our company.”

Andrew Marchant: “It is still too early to know the full impact of the levy as some key details are still being worked on. We remain committed to our apprenticeship programme, moreover as larger employers, such as Xerox, will have to pay the levy regardless of whether they have apprentices, it actually makes commercial sense to have apprentices.”

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