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How to make learning work in apprenticeships

09 April 2010

Taking on apprentices is a sound way to recruit talented staff. There's a lot of work and planning involved, but the rewards are worth it, says Martin-Christian Kent.

Apprenticeships are not a novel concept within the hospitality industry, but in the current economic climate it is especially clear to businesses that it pays to invest in your own people.

Whitbread, McDonald's and other big players have demonstrated the tangible business benefits and competitive advantage to be had - consequently, hospitality is becoming one of the fastest-growing and most attractive sectors for apprentices.

In fact, one in four sector employers surveyed by People 1st had taken on an apprentice over the past year and 37% of those currently offering the scheme said they were considering increasing their intake. Some 60% of employers who had not previously offered apprenticeships also confirmed that they were seriously considering the option.

Many firms believe that apprentices are more productive than hiring new staff and are bowled over by their willingness to learn, enthusiasm, flexibility and responsiveness to change.

Yet despite this, almost half of sector employers (46%) admitted that they were baffled by the whole process of hiring an apprentice and, as a result, didn't progress their interest any further. A further quarter claimed that as small businesses they simply did not have the resources or the time to devote to training up an apprentice.

This suggests a number of factors in play which need to be addressed: a lack of knowledge of the process and involvement of key bodies, perceptions that apprenticeships are for larger companies that can accommodate the time and resources for training, and can develop a structured apprenticeship programme with measurable objectives, timescales and progression routes.

LACK OF KNOWLEDGE OF THE PROCESS

In essence, apprenticeships have been designed by Sector Skills Councils such as People 1st in conjunction with sector employers so that they meet business needs. Employers can obtain funding for apprenticeships from the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) and this will depend on the learner.

As an employer, once you have decided that you would like to offer an apprenticeship, your first point of contact should be your local training provider or college.

Beforehand, you need to consider which level of apprenticeship would be most beneficial for your business:

  • Apprenticeships - equivalent to five good GCSE passes.
  • Advanced apprenticeships - equivalent to two A-level passes.
  • Higher apprenticeships.

Once your specific business needs have been finalised and the number of apprenticeship places available discussed, the next stage is the recruitment process.

Apprenticeships are about achieving standards rather than time-serving so the average duration of an apprenticeship will depend on the individual's skills and understanding, their past experience, their attitude, the level of support they receive from their employers, tutors and assessors, and their choices of occupational routes and qualifications. As a guideline, an apprenticeship should be completed in no less than 12 months while an advanced apprenticeship would take no less than 24 months.

Training can take place on the job at employer premises, partly provided by a local college or a specialist training provider, or conducted entirely by your in-house training department.

APPRENTICESHIPS ARE FOR LARGER ORGANISATIONS

Undoubtedly, an apprenticeship that provides true value and benefit to both the employer and individual requires planning and preparation, mentoring, access to managers, and consideration to career development and progression. But this doesn't mean that apprenticeships should be restricted to larger organisations.

A proactive attitude towards resources and staff development counts for more than a business that does not generate the best from its staff and help them grow. On the contrary, we have many examples of smaller hotels that have successfully implemented apprenticeships and fostered competition award winners.

Martin-Christian Kent is director of policy and research, People 1st


WHY WHITBREAD TAKES ON THOUSANDS OF APPRENTICES

In 2008, Whitbread announced its new apprenticeship programme with the goal of putting 3,000 employees through it by the end of 2009. It assesses staff and selects them for career development and training and development. They can gain an NVQ in housekeeping, food processing and cooking, food and drink service, front office and customer service. People 1st and Edexcel have worked to developed Whitbread's apprenticeship programme.

According to Julie Tindale, head of learning and skills at Whitbread, employers shouldn't be distracted by the funding but instead do it for the wider business objectives. "Think about how the programme is going to help meet your business objectives," she says. "It's a very tangible piece of investment in your team that they can take with them - not just for their own organisation but for them personally, and that's very powerful. It's a vehicle in which you can ensure you've got really well-skilled, competent and confident team members within your business, and it's appropriate for our industry."

TIPS FOR EMPLOYERS TAKING ON APPRENTICESHIPS

Give serious consideration to the cost of taking on an apprentice. This is not just their wages, but the cost of training them and the incremental cost other people's time, and weigh this against the return on investment - when their performance will start making an contribution towards productivity. Our research has found most costs can be recouped within a year.

  • Have a robust selection process in place and really be sure that the person you are recruiting is passionate about your specific sector within hospitality, and wants to embark on the programme for the right reasons.
  • Involve parents in the process as they need to understand what their apprenticeship programme entails and support and encourage their sons and daughters at every stage.
  • Before potential apprentices make their final commitment, test them out by providing a taster session - this is a great opportunity for both parties to see if it's a good fit for everyone.
  • Provide continual support and encouragement to the apprentice. They need to know what your company's expectations are and their objectives and how they are expected to achieve those.
  • Develop a learning and development programme that is valued by prospective apprentices and ensure that apprentices complete the programme.
  • Encourage apprentices to enter competitions. This is a great motivating tool and gives them something different to work towards.
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