I have just read an article in Business Matters on apprenticeships, and how a survey of 2000 small businesses, appears to highlight a move away from hiring graduates, to apprentices.
As with all surveys, I always question the sample used, and this one did not clarify which types of business they spoke with, or the context in which the questions were asked. Although the picture of two young lads intently hovered over a metalwork lathe, may indicate (even if not actual) the perception of apprenticeships, even today. However, the findings highlighted, did open an interesting debate.
The first point made was 57% of these small businesses would now hire an apprentice at entry level, rather than a graduate, as they believed a degree had decreased in value over the last ten years. No explanation was given to why they concluded a degree was worth less, or what this may be linked to. On one hand this may prove encouraging in respect of how apprenticeships may now be perceived, on the other hand, if the old perceptions still hold true, are apprenticeships now seen as a cheaper employment option?
There may be a hint in findings further in to the piece, where it is reported that only a quarter of those questioned had taken on an employee from a school/University between 18-24 years of age in the last two years, and that half of those had reported a poor experience. The poor experience had come through; lack of skills, incorrect attitude and no commitment. Therefore, if they had been paying graduate wages for a poor experience, a cynic may suggest that the thought process leads to, ‘why not pay an apprenticeship rate, and if the experience is still poor, at least it has not been so costly’!
However, I am ever the optimist, and still believe that most people do things for the right reasons, even if the circumstances that they find themselves in does not always make it look that way.
Possibly, one of the most telling pieces of information, was that although 86% of small businesses were worried about youth unemployment, over a third of them thought the problem of solving youth unemployment was down to the Government. The survey then reported that small businesses thought that schools and young people were more responsible than the small businesses themselves.
With over twenty years’ experience in running small businesses, I have, in part, some understanding of why small business owners may feel this way. The life of a small business owner is a complicated one, in one of my businesses, we had twelve staff, a mixture of full and part time employees. I often reflect on those times, and how it was staff issues which took up a lot of management hours. Training and maintaining staff is a skill, and one which many small business owners struggle with. And why wouldn’t they, as with my own businesses, we have a perplexing amount of things to deal with, and the moment the business grows to a point where it needs employees, it can seem as though the lid on Pandora’s box is slowly creaking open, to expose the horrors inside.
That is why it is time for some joined up thinking. Shaun Thomson, CEO of a UK training company identifies that small businesses must put processes in place to identify applicants that show the right attitude. However, it is my own belief that it is more complex than that, and with the current business environment placing ever increasing pressures on those businesses, even if a business owner has identified this course of action, implementation may be a different matter entirely.
That is why the interaction between Government, businesses and apprenticeship providers is crucial, not only in respect of the apprentices, but also the businesses they enter.
On the Government side, they have now at least recognised the importance of training for the future, with the launch of the apprenticeship scheme. Good apprenticeships providers are now using their skills to allow not just young people, but people of all ages to obtain needed skills, and the qualifications to back those skills up. What is now really needed, is for small business owners to complete the triangle, and with the assistance, guidance and knowledge of those providers, create not only a completely new look work force, but also create the leaders of the future.
We all need to play our part, all three legs of the stool need to be in place, if not, it will quite simply fall over. The Government needs to keep good structure in place, and the funding stream available. The providers need to be high quality, and passion driven to deliver what is, a life changing product. And last, but certainly not least, small businesses need to recognise that their role in this is huge, not only for the apprentice, but also for themselves.
If we can achieve this balance, it is my belief that the future is very bright for all concerned.
For more information, or just to have a chat contact Swarm Apprenticeships on: 01953 609752 or email email@example.com