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Inject new blood with apprentices

Taking on an apprentice is a big decision, says Robert MacGregor

No-one wants to make a commitment only to find the person does not fit in well or does not stay the course.

But there are many ways to ensure your apprentice is the right person for your company. Top of the list is a respectable apprenticeship agency offering a good standard and range of candidates.

For example, Construction-Skills apprentices must pass a screening test and our training officers provide support throughout the apprenticeship. That is why we have some of the best completion rates in the sector - approximately 80 per cent of apprentices completing their N/SVQ. Here are some more tips to help you make the best choice.

Selecting candidates

Firstly, do not be afraid to ask searching questions. If your candidate is straight out of school, ask about grades, punctuality and attendance and ask for school reports to back this up or references from previous employers or teachers.

Ask applicants about how they feel about variable hours and working in all weathers.

Secondly, consider what kind of person is best suited to your business. What type of work is available? What sort of person would get on with your employees and your clients?

Consider the widest possible applicant pool - many clients are now demanding representatives from minority groups on their contracts.

Thirdly, think about what sort of apprenticeship structure would suit your business.

Traditional apprenticeships involve a day-release or block-release programme over two to three years or up to four in Scotland, so your apprentice will not always be on site.

However this gives you the opportunity to train someone up from scratch.

Employers in England can also choose a programme-led apprentice in which the apprentice does a full-time college construction course where they gain qualifications before completing the practical aspects of the NVQ Level 2.

This means they know more about their trade when they start with you and are able to work on site five days a week through a placement of up to 12 months.

Both types of apprenticeship have advantages.

A ConstructionSkills adviser can help you assess the options.

However, it's not just about the apprentice being right for you - your business also needs to be right for them.

Be realistic about your scope and range of work, your ability to support their training needs and whether taking on an apprentice will help your business.

Taking on an apprentice may initially seem daunting, but with help and advice on hand, and financial support of up to £9,000, it can be the best way of expanding your business.

As Bob Warren of Newcastle-based building company P Whelan, explains: "I've seen apprentices grow from inexperienced trainees to highly skilled workers. They are the lifeblood of the company and have helped us to expand while maintaining the highest possible standards."

Robert MacGregor is business support manager for ConstructionSkills Apprenticeships