by Scott Edwards

Employing an apprentice is a big decision for any company. It’s a much easier option to take on a new staff member who already possesses the relevant experience and qualifications. Unfortunately, if we all operate in this manner, you can guarantee there will be a dire lack of qualified personnel to undertake innumerable tasks that we take for granted.

The construction industry has felt the effects of this in recent years. Due to the lack of apprenticeships available during the 1990’s, there was a resulting void of skilled tradesmen to carry out the necessary jobs. The government in the UK did recognise the need for training, began encouraging apprenticeships and creating new schemes to accelerate a supply element that could meet demand. Obviously there was a positive effect, but the void was the size of a decade, and the damage had already been done. Additionally, the popularity and greater availability of higher education, enormous growth in technology, (specifically the arrival of the internet), and the opening of European borders, all contributed toward a massive change for the construction industry and British tradesmen as a whole. Higher education opened the possibility of professional careers to everyone. The technological boom created entire new industries, and the opening of European borders allowed non UK national tradesmen to fill the gap. Although UK tradesmen did enjoy a period of inflated premiums for their skills, the subsequent competition quickly drove prices down considerably.

So, why should employers now be looking to spend their time and effort training young workers? Most importantly, will those efforts be rewarded with a healthy profit and market sustainability? In my personal opinion and experience, the answer is a resounding “Yes”! Firstly, the current generation of school leavers have grown up during the technological age, and can adapt to new software and technology with ease. In fact don’t be surprised if your young apprentice quickly starts teaching you far more than you could possibly teach them. They have also been raised in a world of rapid change, knowing full well they must move with the times or be left behind. Any seasoned employer will have a story of struggling to implement change with their long-term staff. Not so likely with a younger employee.

For any boss there is always the concern of being able to choose the right candidate for the position. Will they be willing to learn? Will they be punctual? Will they be loyal after their period of training is complete, or just take their newfound skills to one of your competitors? Perhaps the most important question is, will they fit into the existing team, or create havoc in the workplace? Judging such things during a few short interviews is difficult at best. However, there are much better ways of maximising your chances of hiring the right apprentice.

As an employer myself, I found out the hard way that allowing some government agency to provide a prospective apprentice for initial work placement with a view to full time employment, or going on what you can decipher from a twenty minute interview or two, is like doing the lottery. The result of which can easily be an endless stream of disinterested youngsters who cost time, money and lots of your energy that could be well used in other areas. Fortunately we did strike lucky a couple of times, and those people were worth every ounce of effort. They also encouraged me to be more calculated in my selection process.

The method I now use to find the right apprentice has since proved invaluable. I began by simply approaching our local construction college and speaking to their head tutor. After a short discussion with him I was able to narrow down a broad field to a few obvious leading candidates. Having someone who understood our specific industry recommend people that he had been able to closely evaluate for over a year was fantastic. He held documented reports on their aptitude, punctuality, attendance, willingness, social skills, ability to learn and overall attitude. From there my job became simple. All I had to do was select the person that I felt would fit in best with the current personnel, and I could actually go with that gut feeling we all talk about. Thankfully that gut feeling has never failed me since I chose to use the pre-selection process I’ve just described. In our fast and ever-more-competitive world, we don’t have much time to waste selecting the right people. So a process that gives us a much greater chance of success the first time round is a wonderful asset. The method I now use works brilliantly to source apprentice joiners for my company. I’m hopeful that same method or something similar can encourage employers in a wide range of industries to perhaps consider an apprentice.

Every generation adopts the saying that “Kids nowadays just haven’t got a clue”. Just remember, your peers said the same thing about you. Perhaps you might want to make a difference and give a young hopeful a chance. It may be the best thing you ever do.

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