How does diversity help your business grow?

We explore the stereotypes and misconceptions about apprenticeships, and how they can boost your business.

A grand total of 740,400 people participated in an apprenticeship in England in 2021/2022’s academic year. It’s a great experience for people looking to develop their skills and a brilliant way for them to get a foot in the door of their intended industry, but what are the pros and cons for a business? Hiring an apprentice is a big step for any business; is it the right step for yours?

The first thing to clarify is what an apprenticeship actually is. The guidance for apprenticeships varies from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but generally apprentices are over 16 years old and are combining work with study for one to five years.

Here, we’ll focus on the circumstances for apprentices in England to keep things simple. We’ll explore how they work, their rising popularity, and how they are creating positive changes by addressing the historic gender imbalance by welcoming more women into different industries, which have traditionally been more popular with men.

What does an apprenticeship involve?

Apprenticeships combine working with studying to gain skills and knowledge in a specific job, through a mix of on-the-job training and classroom-based instruction. They are an opportunity for people to gain necessary practical skills under the guidance of experienced mentors, while earning a living wage. As an employer it is good to know that an apprentice doesn’t have to be a new employee.

Which trades can have an apprentice?

From Beauty Therapy to Youth Work, there’s an enormous range of trades that can offer apprenticeships. Whatever industry you work in there’s generally an apprenticeship role available. A good place to check is the government’s apprenticeships website, where there are plenty of useful resources for both budding apprentices, and employers looking to employ apprentices. So, whether you are a carpenter, electrician, plumber, brick layer, scaffolder, a painter and decorator or something else, there’s support available for you.

How do they work in the buildings trade?

In the building trade, apprenticeships typically last between one to five years, depending on the specific trade and the level of expertise being pursued. The apprentices work alongside skilled craftsmen, learning their chosen trade through hands-on experience and mentorship. Simultaneously, they attend classes and workshops to learn theoretical knowledge and understand industry best practices.

The structure of the apprenticeship programme allows apprentices to gradually develop their skills while contributing to real construction projects. As they advance through the programme, they take on increasing responsibilities, building their confidence and competence along the way.

Are they becoming more popular?

Definitely! In recent years, there has been a noticeable surge in the popularity of apprenticeships for trade. This growing trend can be attributed to several factors:

  1. Career prospects: As the demand for skilled workers in the building trade increases, apprenticeships present a pathway to long-term and rewarding careers. The hands-on experience gained during an apprenticeship makes graduates highly sought-after by employers.
  2. Economic considerations: With rising concerns about student debt and the cost of traditional higher education, apprenticeships offer a debt-free alternative to gaining practical skills and qualifications.
  3. Industry partnerships: More and more businesses are recognising the value of investing in apprenticeships, forging partnerships with educators to offer comprehensive and well-structured programmes.
  4. Addressing skills gaps: Apprenticeships play a key role in bridging the skills gaps in the construction industry, where experienced professionals are retiring, leaving a void that needs to be filled by the next generation. Apprenticeships even play an important part in preserving jobs that might otherwise die out, such as, blacksmith and thatching trades.

Women in the building trade: breaking barriers

Historically, the building trade has been heavily male-dominated, continuing a gender imbalance that has hindered progress and diversity within the industry. However, in recent years, there has been a positive shift as more women are entering and excelling in the trade.

  1. Changing perspectives: Efforts to promote diversity and inclusion are creating a more welcoming environment for women interested in pursuing careers in the building trade. Employers are recognising the unique perspectives and skills that women bring to the industry.
  2. Supportive networks: Supportive networks and mentorship programs have emerged, providing women with the guidance and encouragement needed to succeed in what has traditionally been considered a male-oriented field.
  3. Breaking stereotypes: Women in the buildings trade are breaking stereotypes and proving that gender should not be a barrier to pursuing a passion. Their success stories inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Are there any cons to hiring an apprentice?

There are some things to be aware of when hiring an apprentice. Their time off work for off-the-job-training needs to be accounted for when planning your week’s work and when you are assigning jobs, so this may take some additional planning time in your week.

Whilst there is no age range for apprentices (16+ years old is the only regulation), they do tend to be younger, which means that they generally have little experience of a working environment. They will likely need some handholding regarding what is expected of their behaviour in the workplace. You will need to discuss areas like workplace etiquette, how you expect them to deal with clients and their colleagues, how to answer the phone or emails, as well as any other aspects that will be important to their day-to-day experience.

The typical youth and inexperience of your apprentices is why there are also regulations in place to protect apprentices. As with any employee, there are health and safety regulations of which you need to be mindful, but with apprentices you also have to adhere to safeguarding legislation called ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ regarding apprenticeships.

They could move to a different business once they have qualified, however apprenticeships tend to inspire loyalty with more apprentices choosing to stay on after they’ve qualified.

Is there anything else I should know about hiring an apprentice?

The Apprenticeship Levy was introduced in April 2017 by the government to “create long term sustainable funding for apprenticeships and to give employers more control to provide their staff with a range of training opportunities”. But not all employers need to pay the levy, which is 0.5% of their total annual pay bill. It is only paid by businesses with an annual turnover of over £3 million. The levy means that there is more money available than ever before to fund apprenticeship training.

How we can help

Apprenticeships for trade are a great opportunity for workers to gain valuable experience and skills in the building trade. As these programmes get more popular, they’ll address the skills gap while providing a debt-free alternative to traditional higher education. Moreover, the positive trend of women entering the building trade is not only changing the face of the industry but also improving it with diverse perspectives and talents.

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