Apprenticeships - Attracting Young Talent Into The Fold

Attracting Young Talent Into The Fold

Q. What do Sir Michael Caine, Ozzy Osborne and millionaire businessman Charlie Mullins have in common?

A. They all started out as apprentice plumbers

It’s exam time again and a generation of bright young things are being measured against the national yardstick of GCSEs or A-Levels before being sent out into the world of work.

But with university entrance reaching record highs and employers complaining about skills shortages, the competition to recruit the best and brightest of those young people is getting fiercer. You need an apprenticeship scheme to attract the fresh talent you need to ensure a future for your business.

Apprenticeship Schemes

Apprenticeships still conjure images of teenagers in overalls getting their hands dirty on the factory floor or a building site, getting trained “on the job” by an old hand.

But you don’t have to be in manufacturing or plumbing to set up a modern apprenticeship scheme. Accountancy firms and banks are now taking an interest, with government encouragement, giving young people an alternative to further education.

One fan is the founder of Pimlico Plumbers Charlie Mullins. From bunking off school, Charlie took up an apprenticeship with a plumber and, 40 years after going into business, his firm now makes £35 million a year. Other advocates are Jamie Oliver (home economics) and Stella McCartney (tailoring) who both learned their core skills as apprentices.

Captains of industry worth billions of pounds, including Lord Bamford, head of JCB, and John Caudwell, who built up and then sold Phones 4 U for more than £1bn, also began work as engineering apprentices. And famous figures such as Sir Alex Ferguson (tool-maker), Eric Clapton (stained glass design), Sir Michael Caine and Ozzy Osborne (both plumbing) may not have stuck to their initial career choices but their drive and work ethic may owe something to their start in life.

What’s in it for the employer?

An apprenticeship clearly benefits the school-leaver, but what’s in it for the employer? There’s a finite pool of talent out there and you want to attract the ones with the best qualifications but also with the ambition, personal qualities and work ethic to your business.

Consider an apprenticeship as a long job interview during which you’re getting a known quantity, you can impart some of the skills and attitudes you need and you see a positive return for your own commitment.

Apprenticeships also make sense financially. Not only is government funding available in England to cover some of the cost of training and assessing an apprentice, but a good apprenticeship is a cost-effective recruitment tool, so long as your well-planned and funded scheme minimises wastage.

What is an apprenticeship?

Details can be found on the UK Government’s own website but, in summary, apprenticeships allow apprentices aged 16 or over to combine work with study to gain skills and knowledge in a specific job. Apprentices can be new or current employees but must be paid at least the minimum wage.

You must also give an apprentice the opportunity to work with experienced staff, learn job-specific skills and to study during their working week, for example at a college.

What should an apprenticeship scheme include?

You can tailor a scheme to suit the specific needs of your company and your apprentice but there are some common elements that any apprenticeship scheme should include:

  • Mentoring. A dedicated senior person to guide the apprentice throughout the scheme.
  • A programme. Give your apprentice the bigger picture by sending them to every department in your business.
  • Tuition. Properly structured training at work and with an outside body, leading to a recognised qualification.
  • Incentives. A system of reward and recognition to motivate the apprentice to progress and develop the standards of performance and behaviour you want.


In 2015 David Cameron announced that they would seek to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020. Teresa May, in the 2017 Conservative party manifesto has also reiterated their commitment to achieving the target – but where are we on deliverables?

In total, 780,000 apprenticeship starts have been recorded since May 2015 and Apprenticeships and skills minister Robert Halfon, commented: “we are well on our way to turning this country into an apprenticeships nation”.

Interestingly, around 750,000 young people leave school each year but only nearly a third of them, go straight to university, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Competition is high for those who don’t want to pay university fees or who already know what career they want. So, if you want to entice the pick of the crop to work for you, then offer them more than just a job; offer them a springboard to that career!

What’s your view on taking on apprentices versus hiring skilled workers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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