When you mention apprenticeships, what does your mind conjure up? For the – ahem - older readers of this blog, you might be thinking workshops and factories, overalls and cups of tea. Others will have a more contemporary picture. Software companies, special effects companies and finance houses are just some of the places where apprenticeships are now available. Chuck the mortar board in too; there are even apprenticeship degrees, up to Master level.

Apprenticeships are on the rise, and after last year’s introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy (where businesses with a wage bill of more than £3m pa have to pay a 0.5% tax) there is a strong incentive to grow them, as the nation looks for ways to plug the skills gap. As university costs put many off degrees, apprenticeships are now regarded as a serious option.  In a survey carried out by the EY Foundation and the Chartered Institute of Management (CIMA), eight out of ten 16-21 year olds said employers should offer young people more work experience.

My first direct experience of apprenticeships was while handling PR for Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant. Here I saw firsthand the impact this scheme had on the lives of young people. Many alumni took their learning into some of the capital’s top restaurants, some have even become famous in their own right either as cookery writers or restaurant owners. Now, with By This River in its second year of trading, driving brand awareness and new business are naturally two of our main goals, and setting up a digital marketing apprenticeship was one element towards meeting those objectives.

Creative Pioneers were the ideal provider, as they exclusively offer media-related apprenticeships. After a couple of calls to set everything up, they manage the recruitment process, including filtering candidates, so you don’t spend much time on this until the interview process itself. Of our three candidates, we interviewed one and were delighted to offer her the job later that day.

Since her arrival Katie has brought a fresh perspective to our social media and marketing, and we haven’t looked back - growing our website traffic, increasing our online engagement and also receiving nominations for our blog in the Surrey Digital Awards.

When I talk to other business owners, I am asked normally two questions. Is your apprenticeship scheme delivering value to your business? And how much time does an apprentice actually spend working on the business? My answer to the first is absolutely yes - as long as you have clear objectives about the role, and how it fits your company objectives.

And to answer the second question, of course all apprentices need to spend some time studying each week, but it is generally flexible. As Katie’s line manager, I make sure she has the time she needs to complete her studies, and we have a monthly monitoring visit from Arch Apprentices (Creative Pioneers’ partner company) which helps to ensure we are fulfilling our commitment as employers.

Would I recommend the scheme to other businesses? Of course! I see it as a win-win. In a small business like ours, we are still very much involved in our client-facing work and juggling that as a line manager can be tricky at times. We don’t always manage our weekly company catch ups, but I work closely with Katie to ensure she is challenged, engaged and adding value. As in so many aspects of small businesses, flexibility is essential. For me, by combining academic study and on the job experience, apprenticeships are the future.

Have you taken on apprentices, or are you thinking of recruiting one? Let us know here.

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Wendy has been editing and writing magazines since primary school, and now ghost writes blogs, media columns and social media content.


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