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Don't be fooled: Apprentices offer huge business benefits

Michael Fraser

As a former apprentice and now the managing director of a £22m business, I can see the value of apprenticeships from both sides of the fence.

It’s a mistake to think that the benefits are weighted towards the apprentice that receives training, a job and a career path – far from it.

As an employer, I want apprentices in our company because I know they will form part of a successful business strategy. We benefit not only from their contribution on site, but their contribution to a team that will progress with the business, understand what we do from the ground up, and give us options for succession planning and internal promotion.

Long and short-term rewards

When I started my career as a plumbing apprentice, I already knew I wanted to set up my own business. Because of my route into the industry, I was able to do that aged 24 with eight years’ experience already under my belt.

Some of the apprentices we take on now will spend their whole careers on site as plumbers, electricians and gas fitters, and we need those experienced site personnel. They are the engine room of our business and if we train them well as apprentices, our quality standards will be embedded in the way they do things throughout their working life.

What’s more, the apprentices we train now will be the mentors for our future apprentices, so it’s an investment in a way of working, recruiting and training that will grow with us and produce its own legacy.

Other apprentices will move on within the business when they complete their apprenticeship. For example, the managing director of our project services division started out as a mechanical pipefitter with us 10 years ago, and progressed through the ranks on site before moving into a management role.

“Meeting these expectations are met is why our apprentices want to stay with us, which is a significant commercial benefit”

He may not be fitting pipework any more but, because he’s been there and done that, he knows the challenges of working on site, understands the pressure his site teams are under, and has first-hand experience of customers’ needs.

That not only gives him the insights he needs to plan and develop the business commercially, it also makes him a better leader who can support and motivate the team.

Of course, we don’t have an expectation that all our apprentices will stay with us indefinitely, but the reality is almost all of them do.

Meeting expectations

A lot of that is to do with expectations. We expect a lot from our apprentices – commitment, enthusiasm and pride in their work.

At the same time, they know they can expect a lot from us too – a career path that factors in their goals, and a culture that values the contribution of every member of the team.

Meeting these expectations are met is why our apprentices want to stay with us, which is a significant commercial benefit in a sector where skills are in high demand.

Culture is certainly an important part of the mix. We can hire skilled people, but training our own apprentices means we are developing people with our company culture, ensuring our ethos, processes and standards are part of their approach to the job.

It’s impossible to measure the commercial value of something like that. But in my view, it far outweighs any training, levy or mentoring costs associated with apprenticeships.

Case study: Mai Pierre, plumbing apprentice 

Mai Pierre Proline

Mai Pierre Proline

Mai Pierre is a great example of how the apprenticeship route into construction can deliver both the skills and the increased diversity the sector needs.

A former traffic warden, Mai moved to the UK from France 2011 when she was in her 30s. After enrolling on a Level 1 plumbing course, she found an apprenticeship role with a housing association. Halfway through her Level 2 qualification however, she found herself out of a job and wondering what to do next.

Through One Manchester, a housing and community services provider that helps people find work and training opportunities, Mai secured a work placement with Proline through Engie, completing her Level 2 qualification. She is now a permanent employee at the company, studying for her Level 3.

“I’m 40 now, and, in the future, I see myself qualified to NVQ Level 3 and working in a managerial role, where I will be able to transfer my skills and knowledge to the younger generation,” Ms Pierre says. “I want to be an inspiration and motivation to women who think that it’s only a career for men.”

Michael Fraser is managing director of building services contractor Proline

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