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Improving and supporting apprenticeship experiences

Shaun runs through some of the questions he’s asked about how to support apprentices and improve their experience as newcomers to the industry.

APPRENTICESHIPS as ever have been a particularly hot topic recently in conversations I’ve had with contractors. During these conversations, as well as offering advice and guidance on funding, signposting, recruitment and the like, there are almost always questions on how to support the apprentice and improve their experience as a newcomer to the industry.

It’s great to see employers think like this when considering new apprentices, but discussion almost always then leads to exchanges on various experiences as an apprentice and a wide range of tales of what apprenticeships used to be like.

And I get it, having completed an apprenticeship myself in the early 2000s and helping write and deliver apprenticeships for the past 15 years. You always tend to make comparisons with your own experiences and how different things were in times gone by, mainly how different things were when you look at the long history of the apprenticeships.

Historically, apprenticeships in England date back to the Middle Ages, but a formal apprenticeship system wasn’t introduced until 1563. Fast forward to the 19th century and apprenticeships had spread from traditional trades to emerging sectors such as engineering and shipbuilding, even including some of the oldest flooring contractors in the UK like Veitchi Flooring, who were tasked with working on flooring installations in ships including the Titanic.

The ‘60s and ‘70s were the era of levy-funded apprenticeships programmes through industrial training boards (CITB being one of only two left in place today) and in the ‘90s modern apprenticeships were introduced in response to concerns about skills shortages, with an emphasis on qualifications rather than the length of time served.

More recently, the past five years have seen another huge change in the apprenticeship model with apprenticeship standards being introduced, placing the employer firmly in the driving seat when it comes to training new skills and labour, with the support of government funding and training providers. This means the support an employer provides to an apprentice (not just financial) is critical to the development and overall success of an apprentice.

I read a great CFJ article from Martin Cummins, UK technical support manager for Bostik about the challenges in persuading today’s youth to join the floorlaying sector and another fantastic article from Louise Walters, commercial director for Designer Contracts on their nationwide initiative to employ and train their future workforce.

Both articles referred to the support apprentices will undoubtably require from an employer to achieve their apprenticeship albeit from different angles. In today’s economy the opportunity to work in a wide range of settings is mind-blowing with careers in tech, logistics, manufacturing, construction, and retail all fighting it out for future generations of workers. So, the support an employer can offer alongside paid employment is vital when a young person weighs up their first employment opportunities.

While capacity to earn is obviously a major factor in job selection there are also other key qualities apprentices (and all other employees for that matter) will undoubtably look for. A company with a great culture and team members that make new staff feel comfortable is high on the list along with a clear career pathway that an apprentice can strive towards.

Taking into consideration their health and wellbeing is essential, ensuring that there are people within the business whom an apprentice can speak to, ideally who are outside the direct chain of command. When starting a job, most people endeavour to learn and grow as an employee and a person. Apprentices will want to develop new skills and look at where they can head within the company longer term. But if they feel they’re at a company without a properly structured career pathway, it can be hard to see the advancement and the point in continuing in that role.

Clear set goals and structured learning are key to an apprentice’s development. Training providers are monitored by the likes of Ofsted in these areas, but this must also be included in the apprentice/employer relationship too. Strong targets on how the apprentice will develop the skills required as well as what time is being invested in them by employers and fellow staff will ultimately make or break an apprentice.

Setting milestones based around pay structure and completed training can see motivation to learn and gain competency increase as well as a chain of command that understand their learning, what their apprenticeship entails and what they must complete to achieve is also very important.

One great organisation I’d thoroughly recommend for advice and guidance on this is the Learning and Work Institute. It’s an independent organisation dedicated to lifelong learning, full employment, and inclusion. The institute believes, like I do, that training providers, employers, and line managers all have a key role to play in making sure apprentices have positive experiences and the best chances of gaining new skills.

It recently released its own research on recommendations for apprenticeships, releasing free support guides including a Line Manager Guide (Hints and tips for line managers on providing support to apprentices throughout their programme) and an Apprenticeship Support Guide (a guide for apprentices on the support they can expect during their programme and where they can access help).

Ultimately, supporting and improving the experiences of apprentices once in employment is just as critical as finding new ones. While this isn’t the overarching solution to retaining talent in the floorlaying sector, it’s nonetheless vitally important.

To access those guides as well as lots of other great information on improving apprenticeship experiences visit www.learningandwork.org.uk or contact me directly for more information.
01159 506836

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