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Thought LeadersA Beginner’s Guide to Apprenticeships

A Beginner’s Guide to Apprenticeships

Not sure how apprenticeships work? Not sure how an apprentice would benefit your business? Not sure if you could afford to hire an apprentice? In this article, the experts from Skills for Growth – SME Support break down everything you need to know about apprenticeships and why hiring an apprentice can be great way of growing your business. 


What is an Apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship allows an individual to marry their occupation and study, to obtaining a nationally recognised qualification in the process. This work/study balance is formatted in an 80% work – 20% studying structure, with one day a week dedicated to studying at either the workplace itself, or at a college, university, or training centre.

Apprenticeships are available in almost all industry sectors, from IT, Marketing, and Finance to Engineering, Construction, Transport and many more in between. Alongside a vast array of vocational training available, there are also a range of study levels for apprenticeships, such as:

  • Level 2 – Intermediate, equivalent to five GCSEs (Grades 4-9)
  • Level 3 – Advanced, equivalent to two A-Levels
  • Levels 4-7 – Higher, equivalent to a foundation degree or above
  • Levels 6-7 – Degree, equivalent to a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree

An apprentice may start at a lower level and after successfully completing that level, they can move onto the next level and keep doing this all the way up to level 7. Alternatively, it’s also possible to start off on a degree level apprenticeship without working your way up to it.


Apprenticeship Myths Busted


Apprenticeships are Only for Young People

You may have heard many myths about apprenticeships that simply aren’t true. A big one is that apprenticeships are only for young people, when they are in fact for people of any age. This means apprenticeships aren’t just a way to get careers started but can help develop careers by expanding an individual’s skillset or help to change your employee’s career paths within your business, giving them the skills to be redeployed to other departments and levels of responsibility.


Employees Doing an Apprenticeship Can Only be Paid an ‘Apprentice’s’ Wage

Another misconception a lot of employers have about apprenticeships is that they can’t put their existing employees on apprenticeships because they will have to decrease their wages. Fortunately, this isn’t true, as employees can stay on their current salary throughout their apprenticeship and continue to be employed at the same company and study without sacrifice. On top of this, there are many grants and funding opportunities from the Government to help businesses paying apprentices wages and providing for uniforms or tools.


Apprenticeships are Only Entry Level Qualifications

An old myth about apprenticeships is that they are only entry level qualifications. Apprenticeships come in a range of levels from intermediate to degree level and with 20% of employers reporting a former apprentice currently sitting at board level within their organisation, it’s clear that apprenticeships can help boost careers at any level of experience. 


Off-the-Job Time is inflexible

The 20% off-the-job training, although usually conducted by dedicating one day a week to training, isn’t set in stone. If it’s easier for your and your apprentice to fit in training sessions around their shifts instead, this is a possibility and gives you as an employer plenty of flexibility when it comes to allocating time for your apprentice to study.


The Benefits of Apprenticeships


Improves Productivity

Apprenticeships are an effective way of adding talent to your business and developing a motivated, skilled, qualified, and productive workforce. Employers who have an established apprenticeship programme reported that productivity in their workplace improved by 76%, with 74% reporting that apprenticeships improved the quality of their product or service.



Hiring an apprentice can be a long-term investment for a business, gaining an employee that will not only start their career with you, but they will learn within the structure of your business specifically, and ideally grow a long a fruitful career within your organisation. This is evident in the fact that 1 in 5 companies have a former apprentice at board level. Apprenticeships can also help to reduce staff turnover, providing new avenue for learning and development to employees who might otherwise feel the need to seek new opportunities elsewhere. 

By nurturing your apprentices, you will have an employee perfectly moulded to fit your business needs and responsibilities who understands exactly how the business operates and how to effectively perform their own role there.



For small businesses, hiring an apprentice can be a cost-effective way of bringing new talent into your business. Apprenticeships for individuals under the age of 24 could be 100% fully government funded if your business is eligible, and if not, you’ll only pay 5% towards the cost of training and assessing an apprentice anyway. In addition, if your business is eligible to apply and is accepted for funding through the Levy Matchmaking Service, apprentices of any age, at any level could have their training and wages 100% fully funded. 


Upskill Your Current Workforce

Getting the most out of apprenticeships doesn’t mean you have to hire new employees, instead you can upskill your current workforce. If you want to make your workforce more competent in a particular skill or to develop a new skill entirely, you can do this through apprenticeships. This means you don’t have to incur the heavy costs of hiring new employees and can retain top talent within your organisational structure.


Keeps Knowledge up to Date

Apprenticeships allow your employees to learn the most current knowledge and practical skills appropriate for their role keeping their skillset relevant to new and emerging technologies. This knowledge is also easier to understand and recall due to the applied nature of apprenticeships where knowledge learned is then immediately applied in the workplace.


Apprenticeship Specialist help for SMEs

If you’re an SME interested in hiring an apprentice or upskilling your current workforce with apprenticeships, then Skills for Growth – SME Support Apprenticeship Specialist Suzanne McNicholas is here to help. 

Call her today on 0161 237 4444 or register your details here to start your journey with apprenticeships. Alternatively, you can find out more about the service here.


Workforce Development Planning – What is it and how to make it work for you


While many organisations realize the need for better planning, most still lack the tools and capabilities to effectively manage and execute the strategic steps necessary to drive significant business results.

Agile workforce planning shapes the employee experience in significant ways. It also helps companies form teams that work well together for impactful, long-term results, improves investor relations, and enhances talent management capabilities.

People are at the centre of effective workforce planning. When a company plans with its people top of mind, it prioritises and caters to their wellbeing and, ultimately, improves the employee experience.

Workforce planning can help your organization gain business agility through the efforts of engaged employees and their unique, individual talents. That starts with having flexible workforce plans that are tailored to their experiences and needs.

Analysing your workforce helps you determine how to move toward higher productivity and profitability. This ensures that your hiring strategies meet business requirements and that your workforce plans coincide with your growth plan.


Four basic principles of workforce planning

Right people

Some companies rely heavily on the addition of new team members to achieve their goals. In these instances, it would be necessary for them to expand their workforce to process their workloads.

In the new remote business world, regional barriers have dissipated, making it possible to find the best talent, regardless of where they live. Expand your talent acquisition strategy beyond your local area to find the right people for your team.

Things to consider:

  • A national talent search
  •  Factors that affect staffing needs
  • Productivity

Right skills

Knowing exactly which competencies your company requires from its talent is critical to meeting future challenges and most effectively filling skills gaps. Identifying the experience levels that support strategic competencies is vital for translating hiring into strategy and turning business models into long-term results.

Things to consider:

  • Key skills needed throughout the organisation
  • Impact of skills on your strategy and business model

Right place and time 

Continued growth requires placing the right people in the right positions at the right time, and having the right positions to place them in. Accomplishing this requires ensuring employees are optimally distributed throughout the company.

It also means companies must establish clear business goals to ensure they’re hiring team members equipped to help meet current and future company objectives.

Things to consider:

  • Alignment of talent distribution and company needs
  • Adjustment of hiring strategy to meet business objectives

Right cost

Plan for direct and indirect costs you can expect to incur while hiring, including costs for job ads, hours spent on applicant interviewing, new employee salaries, benefits, insurance, etc.

Understanding what these costs look like will keep your team within budget. It will also ensure you’re optimizing costs by securing the right talent, only when those specific skills are needed.

Things to consider:

  • Focus on strategies to optimize costs related to talent
  • Planning for direct and indirect hiring expenses
  • Budgeting for only the talent and skill sets your company needs


These principles should act as the foundation of your strategic workforce planning.

Workforce development helps to identify current trends and forecast future workforce structures that can help to meet service delivery requirements. This in turn can lead to the development and implementation of skills sets to raise labour productivity and increase social inclusion.

Workforce planning provides managers with a strategic basis for making human resource decisions. It allows managers to anticipate change rather than being surprised by events, as well as providing strategic methods for addressing present and anticipated workforce issues


What is the most important part of workforce planning?

Identify relevant strategies for focused people development. The very premise of workforce planning is that business changes, and because business changes, people need to change. Figuring out talent gaps and plans to fill those gaps is a core function of workforce planning.

As you work toward your goals for growth, here are four reasons your business should focus on workforce planning and begin to realize its many benefits.

  • Balance External Hiring with Internal Moves – Bringing in external talent is a great way to bring new skills into your business but hiring internally comes with a heap of benefits including reduced hiring costs, candidates are already familiar with the company, boosts company loyalty, faster hiring process and more.
  • More Effective Onboarding – Ensure new recruits make as many internal contacts as possible during the first month or so after they’ve joined so they can find their bearings within the company and gain valuable insights going forward.
  • Better Anticipated Training, Compensation, and Benefit Needs – Offer training and career development opportunities for employees who want the ability to grow within their role at the company. Workplace training will also increase overall productivity and quality of work as employees will be able to perform their roles more effectively.
  • Improved Employee Engagement – Employees need to feel recognised and valued within a company for them to be engaged and motivated at work. After hiring new recruits, invest in their personal and career development by giving them the opportunity to grow, and they will reciprocate that investment by being more productive and producing higher quality work.


Skills for Growth – SME Support can work with your business to explore all of the above and to support you in identifying your current and future skills gaps and needs to allow your business to continue to flourish and grow – we can work with you on your employee’s individual skills analysis and where improvements can be made in line with your business goals and objectives. 

We will then use our GM Skills Map to source the best training support/provision that meets your needs and where possible source this fully or partly funded as a priority.

If you would like to register for this fully funded support, click here to leave your details. Alternatively, call the team on 0161 237 4444 and speak to a Skills Coach today.


About the author

dawn duggan 300x200 2 Dawn Duggan

Dawn has been with the Business Growth Hub since September 2014 and is responsible for the design, delivery and evaluation of the People, Skills & Talent Programme which include the Executive Development Programme, Workforce Development, Inclusive Growth, Mentoring, National Be the Business Mentoring for Growth Programme and Skills for Growth – SME Support.


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