Myths of apprenticeships and improving productivity with the ‘biggest bang for the smallest buck’
Aug 15 2011
Shattering the myths of apprenticeships and improving productivity with the ‘biggest bang for the smallest buck’
Despite the government commitment to increasing apprenticeships, many employers remain sceptical of the benefits. Dr Mark Brenner, chief executive of BEST (Building Engineering Services Training) Ltd, the leading UK training provider for the Building Services Engineering (BSE) sector, dispels the 10 most common myths about apprenticeships:
MYTH ONE: We would like to take on some apprentices but we just don’t have enough work
It can be hard to plan two years ahead over the lifetime of an apprentice, when building services installation contracts are typically shorter than that. However, an apprentice will contribute to profits in as little as one year by adding to work productivity at a low cost. Not only that, but having an apprentice is often seen as an asset in a tender process, so it could actually help secure new contracts.
It’s also worth noting the commercial value of an apprentice once they have completed their programme. Their motivation, skill level and willingness to work are all very positive assets and their productivity levels are typically very high.
MYTH TWO: It’s too expensive for us
For 16-18 year old apprentices, BEST will fund all training costs all the way through their apprenticeship. There is no extra cost beyond salary. Not only that, but salary levels are part of a national agreement and wage rates for early stage apprentices are far lower than for full time staff members, even though in many cases doing a very similar job.
For 19 year olds and older, funding for training reduces to around 50% of the cost, but at that age they are much more able to contribute financially to the company anyway.
Many independent reports have evaluated and proven the value case for apprenticeships. As Dr Mike Hammond of Summit Skills concludes in his groundbreaking research report on Apprenticeship Cost benefit analysis:
“It has been demonstrated that cost savings can be made through incorporating apprentices into a workforce – whether it be a small team or a larger gang. A major works model shows clearly that across various industries within the BSE sector significant savings on labour costs can be achieved with minimal changes to the overall skill levels of the gang. For a minor works model, it can be seen that correctly managed apprentices, even allowing for learning time on each element of work, provide a cost-effective solution to reducing labour costs and can bring a BSE company significant savings.”
MYTH THREE: We’ve taken on apprentices in the past and then they just go off to a competitor once we’ve trained them up
While we can’t deny that this happens in some cases, in the main we see a great deal of loyalty, motivation and dedication from apprentices towards their host companies. The majority of apprentices respect the commitment they’ve had from their employer and reward it many times over.
MYTH FOUR: Our industry is changing and I don’t think apprenticeships have kept pace. We need different levels of qualification – for example, increased multi skilled M&E apprenticeships for installation of pre-fabricated units.
The new QCF (Qualifications Curriculum Framework) apprenticeship offers much greater flexibility in terms of content, structure and timing of apprenticeship delivery. An apprenticeship programme can now be built up from a series of modules which include new disciplines such as renewable energy. Today, companies can create a much more bespoke framework to suit their organisational needs. But it’s not just about content the flexibility also extends to delivery. Apprentices can now take a break between years without losing the work they’ve already done.
MYTH FIVE: Apprenticeships are for young people and we want to employ older workers – not 16 year olds.
Apprenticeships are for all ages. While over half of apprentices are 16-18 year olds, there is no age restriction on who can be an apprentice. In fact in some companies, such as Adcocks in Cambridge, all new staff are put through an apprenticeship scheme, whatever age they are.
MYTH SIX: I can’t have workers under 18 on site, so there’s no point in us having apprentices
There is no age restriction on apprentices, so you can decide to appoint apprentices at any age, including over 18. Having said that, in fact there is nothing in employment law that declares this, and the HSE do not state that workers on site should be over 18.
MYTH SEVEN: There’s just too much paperwork involved in taking on apprentices
Training providers, like BEST, deal with all of the paperwork involved in taking on apprentices, taking out all the perceived ‘psychobabble’, so employers can concentrate on their own areas of expertise.
MYTH EIGHT: Young people are too unreliable and not committed enough these days
This is a gross generalisation. All BEST applicants are tested for attitude and aptitude and only the best are put forward to employers. All potential BEST apprentices have been fully prepared; they understand the industry or sector they are going to and have been screened for suitability for the apprenticeship programme. The uplift to any workforce of a dynamic and motivated young apprentice wanting to prove their worth and demonstrate new found skills has a real ‘shot in the arm’ effect
MYTH NINE: Our experienced employees aren’t happy about having to train up a young person as it slows them down and affects their bonus
It’s important to select apprentices that are fully prepared and motivated. BEST ensures that its apprentices can operate with minimal instruction on site. They do require site supervision, but that should be no more cumbersome for experienced employees than having to monitor any other on-site labour. In most cases, we find that our apprentices actually act as a support for experienced employees, not a hindrance. It’s also worth noting that all formal training for apprentices takes place in college. Our experience is that the apprentice adds to the efficiency and speed of job – they act as an extra pair of hands.
MYTH TEN: Apprenticeships are for those that don’t show academic ability
This just isn’t true. We have apprentices with GCSEs, A levels and even degrees. In fact what our industry is after is what we might call craft-in-the-hand and craft-in-the-head. It needs people who can – to a degree of faultless professionalism – make heaters work, fix plumbing problems, wire a home, etc. These are workaday trades that every home or company sooner or later requires. But the industry also needs these self-same people to be able to diversify up into new managerial skills and meet ever evolving customer needs.
New professional apprenticeships take people right up to Level 7 which is equivalent to Master’s degree level – hardly people who lack academic ability.
For more information on apprentices, email email@example.com for a free information pack or call 0800 9178419.