Growing your business through apprenticeships

Jason Holt CBE, apprenticeships ambassador and entrepreneur looks at how SMEs are hiring apprentices to boost growth

Next week is National Apprenticeship Week. Now in its eighth year, the Week runs from 9-13 March and is a celebration of the positive impact apprenticeships have on businesses and the wider economy. With hundreds of businesses, schools, colleges and training organisations holding events and organising activities across the country, the challenge this year is to think about how much we really know about apprenticeships.

With SMEs accounting for 99% of all businesses in the UK, a key focus of the Week will be to raise awareness of the support available to the small business community to help them take on an apprentice.

SMEs are an important part of the apprenticeships story; research in 2009 estimated that 80% of all apprenticeships are offered by organisations with under 200 employees. However, as I highlighted in the 2012 government report, the proportion of small businesses offering apprenticeships remains relatively low.

That was nearly three years ago and a lot has happened since then. The fact that two million apprenticeships have been started since 2010 provides a clear indication that SMEs and larger organisations are more aware than ever of the benefits of apprenticeships.

Whether simply ‘growing their own talent’ or committing to developing a motivated, skilled and qualified workforce, the benefits reported by employers taking on apprenticeships are countless. In fact, almost nine in 10 employers hiring an apprentice say they have made workplace gains as a result, and perhaps most significantly, achieving business growth as a direct result of taking on apprenticeships.

>See also: CBI: Flexible contracts support business growth

A good example is demonstrated through branding and design agency, Blue Moon Creative, who won Small Employer of the Year at the 2014 National Apprenticeship Awards. The Worcestershire based agency decided to adopt a “grow your own” approach by taking on three apprentices. Accounting for half the workforce, these apprentices rapidly became an integral part of the business and have helped the business grow. The managing director of the firm says apprentices have transformed the business in a low risk way, into one where potential clients are more ready to talk to them, and people they might want to hire are queuing up. And the best bit is, they plan to take on more apprentices.

And for fledgling or small businesses like Blue Moon Creative, the good news is that it is easier to take on an apprentice than they might think. As well as dedicated SME employer support from the National Apprenticeship Service, there is also funding available in the form of the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers 16-24.

The grant, which was recently extended until the end of 2015, supports businesses to recruit 16 to 24 years olds into employment through the apprenticeship programme. Already more than 106,000 extra young people have been able to start an apprenticeship because of this grant.

It is available to businesses with under 50 staff, who are new to apprenticeships or haven’t enrolled a new recruit or existing employee onto an apprenticeship programme in the previous 12 months. Employers can receive up to five grants in total to cover the cost of starting a new apprentice aged 16 – 24; with each one worth £1,500.

Another useful resource for would-be apprentice employers is Apprenticemakers – an online network of existing and budding apprentice employers which helps those new to apprenticeships to learn from those that have been through the process.

One thing is clear; apprenticeships are delivering for a whole range of industries, from construction to manufacturing through to IT and the creative and digital sector. So as we celebrate National Apprenticeship Week 2015, I would encourage all employers – from start-ups to established firms – to find out how apprenticeships can benefit your business.  And for any employers ready to commit, you can pledge your new apprenticeship vacancies during the week on an official Pledgeometer.

There has never been a better time to employ an apprentice. To find out how to get involved in National Apprenticeship Week visit Here you can find events happening in your area as well as some key facts about apprenticeships and a quiz to test your knowledge.

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Apprenticeship Case Study

High street hairdressing business Upper Cuts has been using an Apprenticeship scheme run by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) as a way of recruiting a skilled and motivated workforce.

Founders John and Carol Burrows believe that the growth of the business, founded in 1983, has been driven in part by the use of apprentices. The family-run business employs 18 full-time and ten part-time staff. Of the 18 stylists employed, 15 have gone through an Apprenticeship scheme. The company is rapidly expanding – it recently purchased an empty property next door to its current premises that it plans to develop into a beauty salon.

‘At the moment there is a crisis in the hairdressing industry in terms of recruiting staff – but we have the opposite problem – we have more staff than we can deal with, hence our expansion of the business,’ asserts John Burrows.

The Modern Apprenticeship programme, instigated ten years ago, is available to people between the ages of 16 and 24. Apprentices learn through a combination of on- and off-the-job education and training. They work alongside current staff and train with a local learning provider, usually on a day release basis. Businesses receive financial assistance from the LSC towards the cost of training.

‘For employers, apprenticeships make perfect sense – the more skills your staff have, the more effective your business will become, and it helps to build loyalty,’ acknowledges Burrows.

There is also an element of personal satisfaction that Burrows believes is important too.

‘We pride ourselves on making everyone feel valued and this enables us to get the most out of our staff. On a personal level, the satisfaction from being involved with apprenticeship training is tremendous and I take great pride in all our apprentices’ achievements. They are an investment in our future success,’ he declares.

Leslie Copeland

Gordon Yost

Leslie was made Editor for Growth Company Investor magazine in 2000, then headed up the launch of Business XL magazine, and then became Editorial Director in 2007 for the online and print publication portfolio...

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