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Written by Natacha Wilson

5 essentials for developing a culture that supports young talent and apprentices

As a learning and development consultant, I’ve recently had the pleasure to work with apprentices who joined a wide range of organisations. 

I am fascinated by the importance of culture in ensuring apprentices can thrive. The way organisations are set up to support their staff, in this case apprentices, is a hot topic and many people ask me what culture looks like and how to ensure we make the right changes. 

The benefits of taking on apprentices in your organisation are multiple. At the heart of it all, you are contributing to developing the next generation of motivated and talented staff. It is also a powerful way to develop a workforce with skills specific to your business, which in turn can lead to increased inclusivity, motivation, and retention.

Here are five insights based on my experience and some of the conversations I’ve had with experts in the field.

1 –Adapt your onboarding programme

It is critical to ensure that the apprentice will receive a fit-for-purpose on- boarding programme. Young apprentices may have limited experience in terms of working environments. Your induction programme needs to reflect this. It may be worth asking young apprentices what they are interested in finding out before they join, or the level of experience they’ve had. Do not expect that they will pick up “how things are done”, along the way. There will be already a lot of pressure on them to get used to their new role as well as commit to their learning objectives. The first few weeks and months can make a massive impact on their motivation levels and how quickly they can contribute.

The on boarding should include times with key members of staff, accessing the employee’s manual and getting used to all the different systems and processes which will be relevant to their role. This should also include specific information about the way the organisation is setting up the apprenticeship scheme, the numbers of apprentices that have enrolled at any given time and the specific support they can expect.

2 – Provide the right balance of support and direction

Apprentices are relying on their managers to help and guide them throughout their apprenticeship programme. Working with an apprentice is different to working with other staff members. The capacity for work and skills-set are different and they will need more support and direction at times. They are there to learn and practise what they have learned, in a supportive environment. 

The balance between support and direction needs to be handled carefully and I have seen that challenge fall into two categories. The Apprentice can feel bored by not having enough work or lacking ownership for specific tasks.      In other      cases the apprentice may have too much work and might become overwhelmed and stressed. One way to avoid these pitfalls is to have regular meetings and informal check-ins. Both are critical to ensure that the apprentice has the right level of support and direction in their day-to-day activities. Furthermore, the manager needs to protect the apprentice by ensuring the rest of the team is aware of their work capacity and capabilities at any given time. This can be a challenge as the apprentice keeps learning throughout the programme so regular reviews are very important with open discussions and the chance to ask questions.

3 – Lead by example

When we talk about inclusive culture, we sometimes fail to explain the importance of leading by example. Apprentices will need to be invited to meetings, conversations and be encouraged to share their opinions. It can be very daunting for a young apprentice to share their views, especially at the start of the programme when they have little understanding of the way things are done. Additional training may be required for other team members who will be working with the apprentice to ensure that they can display behaviours which encourage inclusivity. 

Additionally, organisations may want to match the apprentice with an internal mentor who can help them navigate the working practices of the teams in which they will be working. Mentors can also help with specific challenges apprentices are faced with and offer a good sounding board. In turn this can empower apprentices and help them grow. 

4 – Help them manage their space and their time

In many organisations apprentices will be expected to work from home with fewer days spent in an office environment. It is crucial to support all members of staff to adapt to the new ways of working. It is also important to remember that apprentices need to shadow, watch others perform specific activities to be able to learn and apply the knowledge. With fewer days spent working with others, managers and team members need to ensure      that the      communication and the time spent with the apprentices will be adequate. 

Apprentices will also need support in the way they are managing their time for college work and in their new role. They have to ensure they can complete the programme and gain their qualification. That’s a balancing act with skills that need to be learnt including      saying no to team members, asking for help, and prioritising work      . They might struggle to decide what course of action to take or how to handle potential conflicts.

5 – Managing the transition points

Another component which links to developing an inclusive culture, is about managing transition points during the apprenticeship programme. As we discussed at the start of this article, the on-boarding section is very important. 

There are two specific points which also  require careful management:

●           the first one is when apprentices start their end of point assessment 

●           the second is when apprentices are due to finish their apprenticeship programme.      

With the former, organisations need to provide additional support to ensure the apprentice has the opportunity, support, capacity, and motivation to perform well in the project -for the benefit of both parties. 

The latter is about managing the transition between being an apprentice and taking up a new role. In many cases the apprentice may have the opportunity to stay in the organisation, in other cases they will need to find a suitable role outside. It is important to ensure the apprentice has the right level of information and communication throughout the programme to manage this final transition.

A chance to grow and retain talent

In terms of talent management, organisations have a very difficult task ahead. Making sure you have the right skills mix to help you deliver on your goals, can be a challenge when part of the workforce may be looking to change roles and possibly organisations faster than we have been used to. The pace of technology and disruption that coveted imposed on us in terms of remote working will also add to the burden. In view of this running successful apprenticeship programmes and retaining young talents who will be part of your future workforce can be a powerful way to increase retention.

Taking the time to reflect on the experience of running apprenticeship schemes in your organisation will be very important in helping you develop a more inclusive and diverse culture. Listening to apprentices throughout the programme is vital     but there are     also other ways to capture what has gone well and what could be improved. You could set up a specific questionnaire for apprentices who are finishing the programme and ask them what worked well and what could have been done differently.     That perspective will be rich and provide very useful information which you can then use for future programmes. It is also important to gain feedback from other team members, through staff surveys or short review meetings.

If you are interested in this article and want to know more about my work, please get in touch

Note:

Apprenticeship programmes have become more popular over the last few years with the UK governments expanding its support for businesses who sign up for the scheme. In this academic year alone, 122,000 apprentices joined an organisation to embark on their learning journey. Under 19s apprenticeships accounted for 31.5%, advanced apprenticeships accounted for 41.8%, whilst higher apprenticeships accounted for 34.4%.

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About Natacha Wilson

Natacha Wilson, founder of Cambridge Insights, is a learning and development consultant and coach. She creates tailored development programmes, which combine 21st century skills, mindsets, and wisdom, to boost leadership capabilities and nurture innovative cultures. Her mission is to support transformational leaders and  “leaders in the making” increase their postive impact, solve global challenges and create a greater world.

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