Comment: Why every week should be apprenticeship week

National Apprenticeship Week is a timely reminder of the many long-term benefits apprenticeships bring both directly to apprentices, but also to business operations, says Alice Willett, senior human resources partner, Air Products.

Air Products

Much of an organisation's success rests on three pillars: attracting talented people, developing and retaining the right skills within the business, and having the agility to adapt and continuously improve. There’s no magic bullet to deliver this trio, and the current job market only further complicates things with low unemployment but record-high vacancies.

So what can we do?

One approach is to broaden the recruitment pool. How? Well let’s start with apprenticeships and opening the doors for those who are perhaps less academic and more hands-on. At Air Products, we see a broader diversity of candidates for apprenticeships than other roles, often including applications from 18-24 year olds who have previously struggled in finding a concrete career path, but who have a genuine willingness to learn. These are people worth investing in.

Increasing the diversity of the recruitment pool has a direct impact on the diversity of our workforce, which in turn improves decision making, creativity, and profitability. It is beneficial to have a variety of perspectives and ideas. By bringing together talented people we are able to develop innovative solutions for the challenges that face us, our customers, and the world around us. 

Diversity is critical at all levels of business and, for an organisation that already has an ethos of diversity, inclusion and belonging, apprenticeships can play a part in fostering and strengthening this.

Every organisation is reliant on a specific skillset to thrive so without the right skills, even the best teams will struggle to be effective. At Air Products we’re no different, and we know that what sets us apart is not just the quality of service we provide but our ‘belong and matter’ culture and our partnership-orientated approach – but culture can be hard to sustain and grow.

Apprenticeships can help, facilitating the training and development of specific skills but also embedding individuals in a strong culture of health and safety, equality and diversity, and sustainability. This approach is mutually beneficial to us as an organisation, and to the apprentices themselves. They’re getting an opportunity to learn a trade and we’re getting future employees that already understand our business.

We make sure that the importance of these skills is recognised, with each apprenticeship following different qualifications depending on what’s best for that career route, be it accreditation, NVQ Level 3, or another certification.

Additionally, we find it beneficial to encourage apprentices to work alongside individuals who’ve been with the business for a long time as this is one of the best ways to provide training in our required skillset. By embedding the apprentices within our teams, the team experiences fresh perspectives. This means we are strengthening the business in the near term and, over the longer term, building a pipeline of highly-skilled workers embedded in the culture that is so important to us. We see that apprentices are good for the business, and by extension, the people who make it what it is.

So, with the right people, and the right skills, the final thing is retention. Every business knows that once you have found good talent, you want to keep it – and apprenticeships have much to offer in this regard.

As reported by recruitment-specialist Reed, one survey found that after finishing their scheme, as many as 85 per cent of apprentices will stay in employment. Likewise, they report 96 per cent of employers surveyed as having taken onboard an apprentice reporting benefits to their business. This is certainly our experience – and we are already seeing our investment in apprenticeship programmes pay dividends in terms of staff retention.

National Apprenticeship Week is a timely reminder of the many long-term benefits apprenticeships bring both directly to apprentices, but also to business operations, so I'd urge businesses of all sizes to explore their apprenticeship options. Apprentices form a part of a wider solution to the challenges being faced by industry today so it would be a mistake to miss out on their many advantages.

Alice Willett, senior human resources partner, Air Products