Is it an employer’s duty to ‘progress’ or ‘process’ Apprentices?

Continuing our regular series of blogs, here Paddy Patterson of Maverish Ltd and founder of Oxfordshire Apprenticeships discusses progress vs process.

Have you ever heard or said any of the following statements about Apprenticeships?

“Well, it’s just cheap labour for a year, and then they get rid of them when they’ve finished their Apprenticeship!”

“What’s the point of an Apprenticeship if there’s no job at the end of it?”

“I’ve had Apprentices in the past but you put all that effort into the training them up, and they get a better offer down the road and leave.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do when my Apprenticeship is finished”

You’ve probably heard at least a couple of them, right?  You will sympathise with some of them, no doubt.

It’s on my mind as we’re in the middle of Apprenticeship awards season. One of the challenges in judging for these, as part of the Oxfordshire Apprenticeships team, is deciding where we set the bar.  We agreed fairly early on that ‘progression’ was one of the most important aspects to determining what made an Apprenticeship effective. By that we mean progression in its broadest sense, back to basics as far as Apprenticeships go…gaining the skills and experience to move onwards and upwards within an industry, be it with the same company or not. And of course progressing from one level of Apprenticeship to the next on a similar basis.

We’re in the third cycle of sponsoring the ‘Apprenticeship of the Year’ at the Oxfordshire Business Awards and I think both the previous winners offer a really interesting comparison and contrast when it comes to this.

Airbus Helicopters

I remember they were very honest about the fact that they haven’t enough roles to retain every single Apprentice they train, but took great pride in knowing that they equip all of their Apprentices with the skills they need to find opportunities to progress and develop elsewhere. And to be exact, ‘elsewhere’ means global in this case. Who would argue that isn’t progression?

Darke & Taylor

Is a fine example of a firm whose growth and success is anchored in the development of skilled workers through the Apprenticeship scheme, and a long-standing commitment to retaining and progressing staff throughout the company. Their MD started as an Apprentice with the firm and over half their senior management team did the same.  With up to 40 Apprentices ‘on programme’ at any one time, in a firm growing at 10-15% per year, it’s not hard to see that the opportunities for Apprentices to progress within the business are plentiful.

So the point in both cases is that people are progressing, be it within the same firm or elsewhere in the industry, which is really the point of an Apprenticeship dating back to the Middle Ages to the present day.

As with many things in the world of Apprenticeships, it comes down to ‘expectations’ and the management of expectations from the outset, and unfortunately too many Apprentices and employer still go into the programme unclear about what they should expect during and after the Apprenticeship. I do believe it’s possible and totally acceptable for a business to purposely benefit from the financial advantages of employing Apprentices, provided they simultaneously do a proper job in developing and training them, and if there is little or no prospect of a job afterwards, I think that’s fine, as long as it’s understood by all parties in the beginning. Consider the impact on small firms if they were suddenly compelled to offer a permanent position after the Apprenticeship?

What we didn’t, and don’t, want to see is the ‘procession’ where learners do Apprenticeships then disappear to destinations or industries unknown, or are told they’re not needed, only to be replaced by a new Apprentice who completes the same journey, then is told they’re not needed…and so on. Or return to the same job they were doing before someone told them they were an Apprentice. It’s foolish not to question an employer’s motivation in these scenarios. 

And yes, big elephant in the room is the growing fear that to achieve the government’s ambitious 3 million target, the ‘processing’ of Apprentices by larger firms will be tolerated – maybe even encouraged – but that’s a can of worms for another day….

What do you think? Should employers be incentivized further to keep Apprentices on after they complete their Apprenticeship? Or is it just another case where the drive on numbers is at odds with the drive on maintaining quality? Get in touch, we'd love to hear from you. 

Tel: 01865 323477, Email: info@oxfordshireapprenticeships.co.uk, Twitter: @OxonApprentice, Facebook: /OxfordshireApprenticeships.