TalentTalent AcquisitionHow apprentices can shape a culture – interview with Ben Rowland, Co-Founder, Arch Apprentices

How apprentices can shape a culture - interview with Ben Rowland, Co-Founder, Arch Apprentices

To mark National Apprenticeship Week, we spoke to Ben Rowland, Co-Founder of Arch Apprentices. He shared what he believes are the key benefits to employing apprentices are to employers, what his thoughts are about the Apprenticeship Levy and how he thinks apprenticeships will look in 10 years time…

Why do you think that apprenticeships may have been overlooked in the past employers?

Through the 20th Century, the ‘Professions’ slowly but surely won the PR war against ‘the trades’ – and used qualifications and exams to mark themselves out, while trades stuck with what worked: apprenticeships.

This is deep in the UK psyche, it’s definitely different in Germany (and probably shows in GDP per head….!) therefore has built up an instinctive view that apprenticeships are somehow ‘below’ professions. That is probably why apprenticeships received pretty patchy support from Government when they were brought back in in the 1990s which created a self-fulfilling circle: apprenticeships (who are seen as poor), get poor funding/support, hey presto – they aren’t very good.

The last 5 or 6 years has seen a massive and successful effort on the part of Government to change perceptions, to the point where now one of the most well-established Professions, accountancy, is rapidly switching to apprenticeships as their best way of getting talent.  The ultimate reverse takeover by the trades!

“People will hold their heads high when they say they are a qualified apprentice.”

For employers, what are the key benefits of employing apprentices?

The most important benefit is that an apprenticeship requires and supports a thorough, objective and relevant training programme for someone new to a job. It ensures employers avoid the traditional British way of welcoming new talent: the “sink or swim” approach.

We don’t teach people how to drive by putting them in the driving seat, explaining the pedals and wishing them luck; we get in the car with them, we take them to a quiet road so they can start to get familiar with what it’s like to drive and slowly build their skills and confidence; we sit beside them as we encourage them to perform more and more complex manoeuvres; and we expect it to take many months.

There are other benefits as well: diversity, the ability to shape people who don’t bring bad habits to the workplace and staff who because they are less entitled – can offer greater value for money for the salary they demand.

In what way can employers give apprentices a good employee experience?

The most important thing for an employer to do is to realise that the quicker their apprentice learns and gets better, the better and more productive their company will be. Once they realise this, we will see employers embracing all aspects of the apprenticeship and happily going the extra mile to provide feedback, support and encouragement.

There are also some housekeeping things that make a difference: make sure their desk and equipment are ready to go from day 1, block out time so they can do the work required for the off-the-job elements and provide regular and structured feedback matched against the standard of the programme they are on and get to know their training provider.

Do you think employers can learn from apprentices – in terms of reverse mentoring and different attitudes?

Of course! But this will depend on the expertise, aptitude and temperament of both the apprentice and the more senior manager.  We would recommend that you encourage this but don’t force it.  Often employers think that apprentices will be able to teach them about new technologies and new trends – which they can.

However, it’s just as powerful when apprentices (are enabled to) ask fearless questions about the way things are done – which may not have been questioned for a long time.

How would you advise employers to recruit apprentices?  

It is important to ensure that your recruitment process is right for the kind of apprentice you are recruiting: there is not much point in asking people about “a time at work when….” If this is going to be their first job. We find that employers typically over-weight charisma/credibility and under-weight diligence and willingness to learn (not least because they are a bit harder to tease out). A key decision in taking on apprentices is which provider or providers you are going to work with. One of the key things they should do for you is help you with the recruitment.

They are likely to use the much-improved ‘Government Apprenticeship Vacancy’ service, but should also use the employers’ own channels (including friends and family) as well as jobs boards and apprenticeship focused websites.

“We don’t teach people how to drive by putting them in the driving seat, explaining the pedals and wishing them luck; we get in the car with them, we take them to a quiet road so they can start to get familiar with what it’s like to drive and slowly build their skills and confidence; we sit beside them as we encourage them to perform more and more complex manoeuvres; and we expect it to take many months.”

Do you think the Apprenticeship Levy may have changed the attitudes of some organisations towards hiring apprentices – if so, how?

Without a doubt, large employers who may have previously taken on a small number of apprentices apprehensive about the outcome are now fully embracing this movement. The reasons are pretty simple – if you’re going to spend a large amount of money on something, it’s worth doing it well. That, by the way, is the real reason the levy has seen a reduction in apprenticeship numbers – in our consistent experience, it is because employers are taking their time to plan it thoroughly and right, precisely because they are going to do it in large numbers.

For employers who had never considered apprentices before, the sheer force of the cash involved has forced these employers to consider apprentices for the first time, many are surprised and delighted by what they see.

Do you envision attitudes towards apprentices to change in the next 10 years – if so, what do you think these changes will be?

I do, and I think the ten-year horizon is a helpful one. If I think about the attitudes towards apprentices back in 2012 compared to now I can see a big difference. As apprenticeships become the default route for example within large accountancy firms, we anticipate other sectors that previously were fixated on graduate recruitment will change too, these being; engineering, media/communications, property, retail and public services and many others.

People will hold their heads high when they say they are a qualified apprentice and there will be a lively, high quality and competitive marketplace amongst training providers all seeking to help and push things forward still further… I’m looking forward to it!

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