Grow your talented team with apprenticeships
A blog from Sophie Hardwick at Apprenticemakers
Right now, apprenticeships are in the spotlight. The government has recognised that apprenticeships are an important route to create a future skilled workforce and has set an ambitious target for new apprenticeships starts, aiming for 3 million by 2020.
However, the reason small businesses should switch on to apprenticeships are not to do with government targets but because of all the great benefits they can bring their business. Benefits we see time and again at Apprenticemakers when we interview small businesses1 about their experiences of recruiting and employing apprentices.
Apprenticeships present an excellent opportunity to employ enthusiastic staff members that will grow with your business. They enable you to offer new and existing employees training that is tailored to the requirements of their role and is provided by trainers that understand your sector. Also the employment costs and funding for training make apprenticeships a really affordable option. So if you’re interested in exploring apprenticeships for the first time, here’s a quick overview to help you get started.
An apprenticeship is a combination of on the job experience combined with training that leads to a nationally recognised qualification. The training is undertaken by approved training providers delivering apprenticeships in a vast range of job roles. An apprentice is employed in the same way as any other employee, which helps build commitment from both sides to make the apprenticeship a success.
Apprenticeships are based on occupation frameworks, and within frameworks there are apprenticeship pathways at three levels – Intermediate (Level 2), Advanced (Level 3) or Higher (Levels 4+). Businesses can choose at which level to recruit and train their apprentice according to the job role they’re aiming to fill. There are over 200 frameworks covering more than 1,500 job roles.
The Environmental Conservation framework2 for instance has two pathways at Level 2 and Level 3. Job roles at Level 2 may include: estate worker, ranger, conservation officer, dry stone waller, education officer or community officer. Job roles at Level 3 may include: access/recreation officer, ecologist, environmental management officer, senior ranger, education officer or senior estate worker.
A key factor for a successful apprenticeship is finding a training provider that understands your business and will support you throughout the journey. You can get started by using the Find a Training Provider3 tool on Gov.uk, or by calling the National Apprenticeship Service’s Small Business Team on 08000 150 600. Remember that you don’t need to choose the first training provider that you speak to, it’s important to shop around and find one that is right for your business. Read our guide on how to choose a training provider4 to help you know what questions to ask. Another useful source of support is to join Apprenticemakers, the free nationwide community for apprentice employers in all sectors, and at all stages of the apprenticeship journey, to gain support and guidance from other businesses that have been through the process.
Once you’ve found a training provider, they should be able to help you identify which framework and level would work best for the job role you want to fill. They will often help with other areas too, such as advertising your vacancy (assuming it’s not an existing employee), shortlisting candidates, and managing the paperwork associated with grants and funding once a candidate has been chosen.
So how much does it cost to employ and train an apprentice? The minimum salary for apprentices is lower than the national average in order to encourage more employers to choose the apprenticeship route. For 16-18 year olds and those that are 19+ in their first year the National Minimum Wage5 for apprentices is £3.30 an hour. For those 19+ in their second year and anyone 24+, it’s the minimum wage for their age. Many employers offer more than the minimum wage in order to attract the right candidate. An associated incentive for employers is that National Insurance Contributions (NIC) for apprentices under 25 are soon to be abolished (from April 2016).
The training costs are likely to be partly or fully funded. The size of the contribution (provided by the Skills Funding Agency, via the training organisation), varies depending on the age of the apprentice when they start their training. As a guide, the training is free for 16 to 18 year olds, there’s a 50% contribution required for 19-23 year olds, and if the apprentice is 24+, the apprenticeship training is normally paid for by the employer or the apprentice themselves, although again it’s worth looking around to see if there is access to any other funds to support the training costs. Individuals at 24+ are often contributing a great deal to a business, therefore paying for training can still be an attractive option for employers. Likewise, more mature apprentices are often keen to develop their skills and can access 24+ Advanced Learning Loans6, to help them fund the training.
In addition to the lower employment costs and funded training, small businesses might also be eligible for the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE)7. This is for employers that have less than 50 employees and where your apprentice is aged 16 to 24. Businesses that fit the criteria can claim support for up to 5 apprentices, and the grant tends to arrive about 13 weeks after the apprentice starts.
Apprenticeships present a significant opportunity to small businesses and are an invaluable way to retain important skills that are at risk of dying out without supported training. At Apprenticemakers we meet businesses every day that have not only enjoyed additional success and growth as a result of their apprenticeship programmes, they are keen to share their knowledge and experience to ensure other businesses don’t miss out on the opportunity.
If you’re interested in apprenticeships for your business, get started today by visiting https://www.gov.uk/take-on-an-apprentice and sign up to the national community of apprenticeship employers on Apprenticemakers.org.uk.