The definitive guide for hiring an apprentice

With inflation rising and labour dwindling, hiring (and retaining) staff has become increasingly difficult. Yet, many firms are still reluctant to employ apprentices. And understandably so. Apprentices require a lot of time, training and attention. However, they are also incredibly useful!

So, to help you weigh up the pros and cons of hiring an apprentice, we’ve created a guide specifically about the hiring process.

Here is all you need to know about hiring an apprentice:

1. What to consider before hiring an apprentice

a person writing in a notebook to represent what to consider when hiring an apprenticeApprenticeships offer a practical (and economical) solution to sourcing new talent. And thanks to government funding and apprenticeship agencies, training is more efficient and cost-effective than ever before.

However, these incentives are only worthwhile if hiring an apprentice is viable for your firm. Otherwise, you’re essentially sticking a plaster on an open wound.

So, with that in mind, here are some things to consider before hiring an apprentice:

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Which area of your firm would benefit from an apprentice?

First things first, you need to assess whether there are any gaps in your workforce. Do you have a role that needs filling? Or a department that could benefit from an extra pair of hands? If so, the chances are you're looking to either hire or outsource. But what if you could hire an apprentice to fill this gap?

By hiring an apprentice, you could train someone to fulfil your exacting needs for a fraction of the cost. And with so many apprenticeships to choose from, it's worth seeing which roles could remedy your staffing issues.

What do you want from a potential candidate?

Staff training an apprentice Before advertising for an apprentice, you must decide upon your list of requirements. After all, the aim is to find someone who will fit seamlessly into your team. So, ask yourself, what would make the ideal apprentice?

  • Having prior experience or relevant qualifications?
  • Being employed for 12 months or longer?
  • Would they fulfil part-time or full-time hours?
  • Would they be an intermediate or advanced level candidate?

Once you have a clear idea of what you want from a potential candidate, you can utilise your answers to determine what type of apprenticeship you're willing to offer. Whether that's a Level 2 apprenticeship or a Level 7 Master's equivalent, the intention is to create a specification that will attract your ideal candidate(s).

Do you have the resources to train an apprentice?

Financially, hiring an apprentice is relatively inexpensive. However, the support they require can be costly in other ways.

Therefore, you must carefully consider whether or not your firm can facilitate an apprentice - not just from a monetary perspective but from an educational one. Ask yourself:

  • Do you have the resources to train them in-house?
  • Have you sourced a suitable training provider?
  • Does your liability insurance cover apprentices?
  • Can you provide them with the support they need?

If not, then hiring an apprentice isn't for you. However, if you can provide the necessary resources (and fulfil government regulations), you'll have the opportunity to welcome and nurture exciting new talent.

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2. What skills should you look out for?

a little boy in a builders hat to represent hiring an apprenticeWhen hiring an apprentice, it's important to acknowledge your applicants will likely have less experience and fewer qualifications than if you were posting a traditional job listing. And that's okay! Apprenticeships are all about learning on the job.

However, this does mean you have to adapt your approach to recruiting. Instead of hiring based on accolades and achievements, you must focus on their personal traits and soft skills.

So, to help you find the ideal candidate, we have created a list of qualities you should look for when hiring an apprentice:

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  • Enthusiasm - enthusiasm is a precious commodity. Why? Because studies have shown that companies with enthusiastic employees are 30% - 40% more productive! Therefore, if you want to get the most out of your apprenticeship programme, you must seek out passionate individuals.

Remember, enthusiasm isn't something you can teach. So, for the sake of your staff (and the success of your apprenticeship programme), don't compromise on this quality.

  • Willingness to learn - apprenticeships are all about learning. At their very core, they are an educational endeavour. Therefore, you must select candidates that are eager to learn and develop new skills. After all, if they aren't willing to learn, you have very little to gain.

As a general rule of thumb, keep an eye out for inquisitive candidates and candidates who demonstrate self-directed learning.

  • Self-motivation - much like enthusiasm, motivation is an intrinsic quality. Therefore, when advertising for an apprentice, you want to be seeking out ambitious individuals. Why? Because they are more productive, more engaged and more autonomous. In turn, you can entrust them with greater responsibilities, enhance their learning and increase their effectiveness.
  • Effective communication - written and verbal communication are the cornerstones of every professional relationship. Without clear communication skills, wires get crossed, mistakes get made, and relationships suffer. So, make sure you hire an apprentice with great communication skills.
  • Resilience -  as we all know, accountancy is a high-pressure industry. The hours are long, the work is demanding, and the mistakes are costly. Therefore, if you want your apprenticeship to be a success, you must select a candidate that demonstrates some resilience.

The goal is to find someone who can acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them (not someone who gives up after falling at the first hurdle). So look out for candidates who demonstrate confidence, adaptability and self-awareness.

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3. The pros and cons of hiring an apprentice

a weighing scale to represent pros and cons of hiring an apprenticea

As with any investment, you must always consider the pros and cons. What are the potential risks and rewards? What are the costs? (Both monetary and otherwise.) Can you expect a good return on your investment?

To help you assess whether or not hiring an apprentice would be the right choice for your firm, here is a list detailing the pros and cons of investing in an apprentice:

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The pros

  • An affordable staffing solution: hiring an apprentice is incredibly inexpensive. With the help of government funding, you could pay as little as 5% towards your apprentices' training and assessments.
  • Opportune for expanding your skill set: you can train an apprentice to meet your exacting needs by filling the gaps in your unique skillset.
  • Ideal for delegating low-value tasks: this will enable your other employees to focus on higher-value tasks.
  • Welcome a fresh perspective: innovation is essential to success. Hiring a young apprentice can provide you with new inspiration along with a brand new outlook.
  • Improved retention rates: did we mention hiring an apprentice can improve staff retention by 69%?

The Cons

  • Time-consuming: hiring and training an apprentice takes much more effort than hiring a traditional employee.
  • Mistakes are inevitable: mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process. However, you may spend more time fixing errors than making progress.
  • No long-term guarantees: There's always the risk that your apprentice will leave you to work elsewhere. (However, recent studies have shown that 64% of apprentices choose to remain with their original employer after qualifying.)

(For more detail on the pros and cons of hiring an apprentice, read: The Promises and Pitfalls of Hiring an Apprentice.)

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4. How to get the most out of your apprentice

a group of colleagues If you want to get the most out of your apprentice, you need to give them every opportunity to succeed. That means going the extra mile, providing additional resources and developing a support network to help nurture their growth. Here are some ideas to help engage your apprentice and ensure they're reaching their fullest potential:

Develop a personlised training programme

Outlining a comprehensive training plan (before your apprentices' start date) is a great way to facilitate their transition into the team. It ensures everyone understands their role in the training process and provides your apprentice with a detailed overview of the next 12 months.

So what should this programme include?

Firstly, it's important to acknowledge that your training programme will vary based on your course and training provider. But as a general rule, your programme should include learning objectives, KPIs and external training sessions/examinations. If you have the resources, you should also include your monthly mentor meetings (separate from the ones offered by your training provider).

Developing a training programme for your apprentice is beneficial for many reasons, but the primary incentives are:

  1. To coordinate tasks, supervision and mentor meetings ahead of time
  2. You can create a clear timeline for their training
  3. You can closely monitor their progress and ensure they don't lose momentum

So whilst it's helpful from an organisational perspective, the primary purpose of this activity is to ensure your apprentice knows exactly what is expected of them and when.

Assign them a mentor

a mentor and his apprentice to represent a guide to hiring an apprenticeWith so much to learn in a relatively short period of time, your apprentice will need a contact on-site who they can look to for support and guidance. Someone they can ask for help and turn to for advice, someone who will monitor their progress and development.

Without a mentor, your apprentice is more likely to make mistakes, lose motivation and isolate themselves from the rest of the team - none of which of good for productivity. So although full-time supervision may sound like a costly expense, it is necessary if you want to get the most out of your apprentice.

Don't forget, the quicker your apprentice learns the ropes, the sooner they can work autonomously. So, don't underestimate the value of mentorship - it could be the difference between training a good employee and a great one.

Specify their role and responsibilities

The likelihood is your apprentice will need a lot more direction than your other employees. After all, they will only have limited experience. So make sure you outline their role and responsibilities in explicit detail.(See our guide to Rhythm Meeting Agendas here).

It may seem a little exhaustive at first, but you must remember they are new to the accountancy industry. So, what may seem like second nature to you, could be brand new information for them.

It's also worthwhile explaining the relevance of each of their tasks. Why? Because if they don't see the point, they'll have no incentive to be productive. So make sure they understand the importance of their contributions.

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Welcome new talent

Apprenticeships are an economical and effective way to source new talent. And although an apprentice may require more care and attention than your other employees, they do provide you with a whole host of tangible benefits.

So, if you want to improve your bottom line, staff retention rates and productivity levels (by 78%), consider hiring an apprentice. It's a long-term investment, but the ROI is second to none.

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