Dominique Unsworth, the Department for Education’s Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME) Apprenticeship Ambassador, makes the case for why SME’s should invest in apprentices.
Ten years ago, I was struggling to grow my business, a digital production company that creates diverse creative content and training, with just one member of staff. Today we have six staff and half of them came through an apprenticeship.
As the Director of a SME, it’s so hard to take that leap to expand the business and increase overheads by developing new roles and hiring new staff. So for me, taking on that first apprentice, was a cost-effective, low-risk opportunity to attempt to grow.
That first attempt proved fruitful and apprenticeships are now embedded in our business growth plan, with the aim of not only growing from the ‘bottom up’, but exploring the opportunity to re-train, upskill and retain existing staff (that we might otherwise lose to competitors) through degree or post-graduate level apprenticeships in leadership, management or production.
Each year when we review the business plan, targets and goals, we look for areas of growth, where an apprentice role might support or enable that growth to happen. At the start we took on apprentices in digital roles, later in marketing, then community arts and most recently business administration.
Rather than focus on pre-existing academic achievements, apprenticeships enabled us to focus on recruitment based on raw talent, initiative, willingness to learn and practical skills. This in turn resulted in more socio-economic and cultural diversity within our organisation and increased our worldview and ability to innovate.
We recruit every apprentice in response to a real and often urgent ‘business need’. We treat them exactly the same as any other employee and they are first and foremost a member of our staff team. The partnership with a training provider, increased capacity to deliver and new perspectives they bring, are all added bonuses.
So many businesses I come across seem to think they are doing the apprentice some kind of favour, they complain of lack of time to train them, or the need to spend time supporting them in the early months… but surely that’s what we have to do for any employee? There are altruistic outcomes along the way, if you can nurture and develop emerging talent through your organisational growth. Ultimately it’s the business that receives the net gains, if you have the correct standard, training provider, induction process and person in place. You might even be able to access some additional ‘transfer’ funds from a bigger levy-paying client in your supply chain if you’re on your game.
We don’t just hire apprentices because it’s good for them and good for the local community, we do it because it’s good for business!
Dominque Unsworth BEM is the Department for Education SME Apprenticeship Ambassador to Rt Hon. Anne Milton MP, and Director and founder of social enterprise Resource Productions.
See all of the Sutton Trust #BetterApprenticeships campaign guest blogs.