Top insights from an Enterprise Nation member on the realities, challenges and benefits of employing an apprentice

Top insights from an Enterprise Nation member on the realities, challenges and benefits of employing an apprentice
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise NationEnterprise Nation

Posted: Fri 9th Mar 2018

It's National Apprenticeship Week and we're publishing the stories and advice from small business owners who've taken on apprentices.

To conclude the week of content, we talk to Kim Spooner, Enterprise Nation member and co-founder of Henry Fix Painting & Decorating, about her experiences of employing an apprentice.

How did you come up with the idea for your business and turn that idea into an actual business?

We wanted to work for ourselves having both left our previous careers and so we combined David's painting and decorating experience with my marketing and administrative background to launch a decorating company.

We wanted to do things differently and offer a better service than many of the decorating companies we had come across.

Of all the trades, painting and decorating is the lowest valued, and we want to help change that perception.

Why did you decide the time was right to take on an apprentice?

In all honesty, for both self-serving and selfless reasons.

We wanted to grow our business and have some extra help on site. We had tried this with 'experienced' tradespeople but it did not go as smoothly as we planned, so we thought getting someone fresh in, and teaching them our way of doing things, would be a better plan.

The time was right as we had experience of managing our previous staff and we were clear about how the apprentice could fit into our structure.

Secondly, we are really passionate about decorating being a viable and respectable career choice. We wanted to encourage a young person looking to break into the industry and instil in them a good work ethic, morals and professional standards.

How did you go about finding your apprentice and recruiting them for the role?

We advertised for a trainee decorator on Indeed and on our own website. We received many unsuitable applications.

The few that were worth considering, we screened via a short telephone conversation and then we offered a paid trial to the ones we were keen to take on.

Then began the much trickier process of enrolling them onto an apprenticeship programme (ie: finding a college, sourcing funding, etc.).

Did you face any challenges taking on an apprentice as a very small business?


Firstly, navigating the ins and outs of the process, as well as trying to work out what funding is available.

Large companies, geared up for apprentices, have apprenticeship officers and departments devoted to this area of their business.

We were trying to do this alongside everything else we do as small business owners.

It has taken a lot of research and angst to get to the point we are at now. I think the landscape is very confusing and hard to navigate.

In fact, we first started looking for an apprentice a few years ago and gave up because the process was too difficult. This time around we have been more lucky, but to be honest, we are still learning about the process.

What benefits has the apprentice brought to your business?

Obviously, having an extra pair of hands and eyes on site is great, plus it's really enjoyable teaching someone and watching them grow as a tradesperson and as a young man.

Having a young person in the business is refreshing.They bring new ideas and perspectives and keep us on our toes.

Perhaps we were lucky with the apprentice we got as we have heard many scare stories from other companies, although with hindsight, maybe they did not give enough (or have enough) time to dedicate to their apprentice.

Do you think the government could do anything to make it easier for small businesses to employ apprentices?

Making funding easier to access for companies with less than five employees.

I would also like to see apprenticeships marketed as a serious vocational pathway, not as a last-resort option for those who are less academically able. This would provide companies with a wider pool of quality candidates.

Apprentices are often associated with bigger businesses. What advice would you give to the founders of small businesses for employing an apprentice?

Try it. It might take time to bear fruit, but treat it as an investment.

Like anything in business, you get back what you put in, so be prepared to support and monitor your apprentice and have patience.

We have found that creating our own in-house training plan, goal-setting and performance management systems (admittedly not easy things for a small business to set up) have really helped keep the apprentice on track; more so than just relying on their college commitments.

Enterprise Nation's National Apprenticeship Week content is supported by gives you the tools to source job candidates directly by using a huge network of over 1,200 job boards. If you post an apprenticeship vacancy for your business during March, it will cost just £99 instead of the usual £139. To find out more, call 0844 351 0334 or go here.

Got comments about apprentices? Post your thoughts and experiences below.

Enterprise Nation
Enterprise NationEnterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

You might also like…

Get business support right to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive business tips, learn about new funding programmes, join upcoming events, take e-learning courses, and more.