Posted: Tue 6th Mar 2018
It's National Apprenticeship Week and we're publishing the stories and advice from small business owners who've taken on apprentices.
Next up, Vicky Harris, business centre manager at Obsidian, a serviced office company in Chester, explains how employing several apprentices for several years has boosted the company.
Why did you decide the time was right to take on an apprentice?
We have been taking on apprentices for years.
Our previous apprentice decided that this industry wasn't for him so at the end of his apprenticeship we decided to take on another apprentice.
How did you go about finding your apprentice and recruiting them for the role?
For a long time we used the local college but we were never very impressed with the candidates and support that was offered.
For about three years we have been using Arch Apprentices and they are fantastic.
They really work for and in the best interest of the apprentice, which I think is really important.
This year they changed the structure of the apprenticeship so it is very heavily marked on the work provided by the employer and is more work based than classroom based.
There are obviously pros and cons to this but I think the main thing it combats is the view that an apprentice is just cheap labour or there to make the brews!
Did you face any challenges taking on an apprentice as a small business?
As a small business, the progression is limited as there are only five members of our team (including our apprentice).
I think our main difficulty was finding someone to fit in with our team.
With the college, they would send us someone and that would be it.
We couldn't really interview them and see if they were the right candidate whereas now the role of an apprentice here is promoted more as a job role so we interview candidates and make more of a day of it.
This helps us to see whether the person will be good for the role and the company and quite often it gives the candidates an opportunity to see what kind of work they will be doing and if that line of work is what they want to do.
With such a small team we rely on everyone to be able to cover each other for holidays and sickness so ensuring that we have a good team player is essential for us.
What benefits has the apprentice brought to your business?
Apprentices bring so much. They have a fresh approach and new ideas.
They can often bring life to stagnant projects that have been forgotten and get other employees excited about them again.
They also bring a different perspective to the business and highlight things that perhaps we didn't think about before.
In our experience, our apprentices have been very competent with computers and technology allowing us to advance our business in that direction more and more.
Do you think the government could do anything to make it easier for small businesses to employ apprentices?
I think the government could provide a training grant. For example, this year we have to provide around 400 hours of additional training for our apprentice separate from the training provided by Arch.
This is great for the apprentice but it costs the business a lot of money and some smaller businesses may not be able to afford this.
I think it would be good if the government provided grants and bursaries direct to the apprentices themselves in much the same way they are available to students.
Apprentices are often associated with bigger businesses. What advice would you give to the founders of small businesses for employing an apprentice?
I would say if you are thinking about taking on an apprentice, do it.
The advice we give our apprentices is that they should use the experience here to get a good foundation in administration and marketing and use that to pursue their dreams.
Our current apprentice has said that she wants to eventually get into the beauty industry and help change perceptions of beauty standards through the use of marketing and media.
By starting in a small business she is really learning the basics and working her way up, building on her knowledge each time she learns more.
Watching the apprentices grow in confidence and knowledge is really great.
They make a huge difference to our business and teach us as much as we teach them.