Apprentices should be the lifeblood of any construction industry SME, but too often management is put off them by wrong, preconceived ideas.
In our experience apprentices will be the greatest investment you ever make in your business, and we would emphasise the following reasons and advice to other SMEs:
1 – They will stay with you
‘We’ll spend time and money training an apprentice, but they’ll just leave for a bigger firm as soon as they’ve developed skills.’ This is a common misconception that is untrue.
On average, the young people we take from school stay with us for eight years, whereas employees who join us via recruitment consultants are with us for just three years. Apprentices tend to be the most loyal employees and often become senior managers.
However, to keep them motivated you must treat them with respect and give them more responsibilities as they gain experience – a 19-year-old with three years’ experience should be treated differently to a 16-year-old with no experience.
2 – They improve the productivity of existing staff
Develop a structure and a role for apprentices within your organisation and this will make managing them less time-consuming.
Picking a mentor is essential – understand that some will be much better mentors than others.
Staff who are in the last 10 years of their career and keen to impart their knowledge usually make the best mentors, and the pleasure of mentoring often makes them more productive overall.
We find having one apprentice per team is the most manageable and beneficial set-up for all involved, and means there will always be enough work for the trainee.
3 – It’s not expensive or difficult to recruit
With your first apprentice your business will be entitled to a £1,500 grant under the government’s employer incentive scheme. In addition, the government will fund the further education of all apprentices under 19 years old.
Industry organisations will help you appoint apprentices – we use the Consortium of Consulting Engineers apprentice programme – but organisations such as the Construction Industry Training Board help the wider construction sector.
A lot of good schools and colleges are also helpful in identifying possible apprentices.
4 – It’s an investment that pays
Taking on apprentices is an investment that should reap considerable returns for your business.
Yes, time and money must be invested during the first six to eight months, but from that point onwards your business will benefit more, financially, than it could recruiting any other way.
The mix of practical experience and education also sets apprentices apart from other graduates.
5 – It creates a good impression with clients
Clients respond positively to SMEs that take on apprentices.
It demonstrates that you are confident about your long-term prospects and are planning for the next 15 to 20 years, rather than just the next three to five.
6 – The industry needs apprentices
Apprenticeships must be made a key part of the construction industry again. We wouldn’t even have been having this debate in the 1970s.
We need to develop young people for a life-long career in construction.
As the market recovers, labour shortages are already becoming an issue, which leaves us competing for labour and thus paying a premium for people. This risks choking off the recovery.
Apprentices are crucial to creating a strong workforce that’s capable of meeting important goals such as the government’s housebuilding targets – something the industry doesn’t have the labour pool to deliver at present.
Steve Hale is managing director of Crofton Design