How Do You Get the Most from Your Apprentice?

Before we can think about how a business should operate an apprenticeship, it’s important to understand the true meaning behind what an apprenticeship actually is, and why people pick this route. Here Charlie Mullins OBE, the founder of Pimlico Plumbers, discusses how apprenticeships work and how employers can make the most of them.

Charlie founded the company in 1979 with a plumbing apprenticeship, a bag of tools and a second-hand van to his name. The business is now the UK’s largest independent plumbing company.

I often reflect on my own journey, because the motivation for doing an apprenticeship, and the expectations of what a youngster can get from one, haven’t exactly changed.

At fifteen, salvation arrived. I was offered a place as an apprentice plumber with a building firm. I knew doing an apprenticeship would mean tying myself into a rigorous, mutual commitment between a young person and a company, where the end product would be a skilled, work-ready young adult and just as expected; at the end of my four year apprenticeship, I was highly trained and hungry to get out on my own and earn some proper dosh.

The choice to leave school in favour of an apprenticeship was easy for me. I had a chalk and cheese relationship with formal education, but I also knew I wanted to go far in life. This is step one in understanding what youngsters want out of an apprenticeship. They want top quality training, to lead them in good stead for a successful life, and it’s up to companies to give this to them. Businesses must remember that an apprenticeship is not ‘the easy route.’ Far from it in fact.

When I was offered an apprenticeship at Anglo Scottish Construction, I considered myself lucky. I say lucky because, in 1967 good apprenticeships were not so easy to come by, unlike today. Today the quality of apprenticeships have risen, but businesses must ensure they’re not only equipping youngsters with the skills for a career, but also exposing them to real working scenarios, which gives them an opportunity to develop soft skills. I always say the life lessons I learnt during my apprenticeship kept me on the right path.

When I was training, regimentation, focus and discipline were key. The obligation to be patient became wired into the system. This much I knew for sure: without the framework of being committed to the apprenticeship, I’d have quit a thousand times, and been sacked a thousand times too. But knowing I had a mentor investing time, effort and hope in me, was real motivation to excel. Businesses should never give up on the youngsters who come into the company, it’s important to remember there’s a huge demand for home grown talent, and UK businesses have a duty to commit to training them.

Despite an increase in the amount of businesses offering apprenticeships, there’s still a deficit in the amount of opportunities available, compared to the amount of young people wanting to take an apprenticeship on. So what’s gone wrong?

Well, although the government have now accepted that apprenticeships are the vehicle for driving social mobility and enabling youngsters to gain work-related skills for their futures without compromising their financial position, they still haven’t figured out how to devise the best education policy for vocational training. Because the current policies are ill-advised, businesses haven’t been forthright in buying into the idea of taking on apprentices – but I’m yet to understand why? Apprenticeships aren’t only beneficial to the student on the course, but they also greatly benefit the employer.

Offering to train an apprenticeship, helps employers improve their own skills. Training a novice in any profession, forces you to revisit the basics as well as the more complex principles, which is a great way to contribute to personal development. Apprenticeships also allow you as a business owner to identify skills gaps, and develop them to match the company’s future needs. Ultimately it allows the business to source future managers and leaders from within.

Secondly, apprenticeships are known to increase staff loyalty and retention. Employees who have been trained in-house tend to be highly motivated, committed to the company and supportive of its business objectives. Ultimately, you can train the youngster to comply directly with your company ethos, and work in your own way. I’ve always said, when you’re drinking out the same teapot as your staff, you get the best results. Apprenticeships also encourage employees to think of their job as a lifelong career and to stay with the company for longer, so you can save a few quid on recruitment costs. Offering an apprenticeship to an existing member of staff also shows that you see them as an important part of the workforce and you as a company are happy to invest in their future.

These two examples are just a few of the many ways an apprenticeship can benefit the employer. It’s why at Pimlico we have produced hundreds of qualified professionals over the years via apprenticeships, and currently have 75 apprentices who are training to follow suit. The simple fact is, at Pimlico we’re not only going to continue to take on more apprentices, but we’re also building our own dedicated training centre for the youngsters.

Even if the government are light-years behind in terms of skills policies, businesses around the UK should take matters in their own hands, and open their doors to our next generation. Train them, invest in them, and subsequently watch your business and the economy prosper.

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