Government money for apprenticeships is flowing fast while so many other budgets suffer in this age of austerity. But there is more to establishing a working apprenticeship programme than taking the cash and identifying the right candidates to train up. TM uncovers some of the changes to management style and practice that companies need to prepare for.
- In the 2010/2011 academic year there were 457,200 apprenticeships starts across sectors – a 63.5% rise on the previous year. This included 48,970 apprenticeships in engineering and manufacturing technologies
- The completion/success rate for apprenticeships across sectors is 76.4%. For engineering and manufacturing technologies the success rate is 77.3%
- In April this year government established a £1500 incentive payment for small employers to take on an apprentice
- A higher apprenticeship fund of £18.7m is being applied to the delivery of 19,000 new higher apprentices with advanced skills
- From August 2012 all apprenticeships, whatever their sector, will have to last for a minimum of 12 months (most engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships last at least three years)
- A review of the challenges to establishing more SME apprenticeships is due to report to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills this summer
While headline figures on the increase in apprenticeship starts and high success rates for manufacturing apprenticeships are good news, employers still express concern over their ability to deliver an apprenticeship programme.
The cost of delivering an apprenticeship is a primary concern, but behind this there are also worries about building time and ability into the existing workforce. One manufacturer told TM: “We don’t want to start trying to deliver an apprenticeship if we can’t do it properly. It is not something to be taken lightly.”
With this in mind, TM spoke to EAL, the qualifications body for the manufacturing sector skills council, Semta, about the ways in which management and the wider workforce in manufacturing firms – particularly SMEs – should prepare for taking on an apprentice.
Mat Scarff, senior business development advisor at EAL observes, “Many of the organisations we have worked with for some time have well established apprenticeship cultures. In these organisations taking on apprentices year on year is about organic growth and the training and development an apprentice receives are integrated into business systems.”
But this may not be the case in an organisation which has either had a long break from apprenticeship provision, or which is looking at provision for the first time. “There will be a number of things they need to consider,” comments Mr Scarff.
“There is no need to take what the first apprenticeship training provider or local college offers you in terms of apprentice candidates or the training framework. This must be right for the business,” Mat Scarff, Senior Business Development Advisor, EAL.
“The first thing to bear in mind is your importance as an employer to the whole system of apprenticeship provision and training,” he continues. “Often employers don’t realise the weight they have. There is no need to take what the first apprenticeship training provider or local college offers you in terms of apprentice candidates or the training framework. This must be right for the business.”
Once a business is sure they have shaped an apprenticeship model which meets its needs however, Scarff says that one of the best ways to move towards embedding it culturally within business systems is to accredit management staff as assessors. “Engineering apprenticeships are predicated on the NVQ code of practice. An important part of this is the ability to put management staff in a business through assessor training so that they become an integral part of the qualification delivery.”
“An important part of [the NVQ code of practice] is the ability to put management staff in a business through assessor training so that they become an integral part of the qualification delivery,” Mat Scarff, Sebior Business Development Advisor, EAL.
Though Scarff says that funding is available for putting management through these assessor awards the accreditation may cost money and certainly takes time. “The alternative is that you provider delivers the assessors while employees take on more of an expert witness role,” comments Scarff. “This approach can hide quite a lot of the ‘wiring’ from an employer but I would always encourage businesses to engage as much as possible.”
Easier said than done?
According to Gary Wyles, managing director of pneumatics and automation supplier, Festo Great Britain traditional companies can experience an uncomfortable period of change while managers come to terms with their responsibilities for apprenticeships.
Festo Didactic, the professional training division of the company, has been helping manufacturers deliver apprenticeships for years, but Mr Wyles reveals that, as Festo GB starts taking on apprentices within its own business for the first time this year, the company is gaining a new perspective on the challenges involved.
“The whole experience of developing the scheme, and identifying and recruiting candidates has been positive but surprising. It is quite different from simply being involved in delivering the training for specialist skills within someone else’s scheme,” observes Wyles.
“The high quality of potential candidates thinking about the new apprentice programmes was a surprise but hugely encouraging,” Gary Wyles, Managing Director, Festo GB.
The responsibilities for line managers and mentors in delivering an apprenticeship were one of the areas which surprised Festo most. “Part of this was due to the unexpected calibre of the candidates,” comments Wyles. “We started recruitment with an idea based on shared experiences of what our own apprenticeships had been like. We remembered there being the odd diamond in an otherwise rather low quality group of applicants.”
Not so in today’s world says Wyles. “The high quality of potential candidates thinking about the new apprentice programmes was a surprise but hugely encouraging. It shows that talented young individuals are thinking about apprenticeships as a realistic and exciting alternative to degree programmes.”
An excellent result, but Wyles says it immediately put pressure on. “These candidates are not defaulting into manufacturing so we have to provide them with something special. They know this and they have very high expectations of the way they are going to learn and develop with the company.”
Wyles says this means your systems for measuring progress and providing feedback to apprentices must be rigorous, meaningful and immediate. “The generation of young people starting apprenticeships today are used to immediate feedback in every aspect of their lives. When they don’t get it, they don’t worry so much as challenge. This is something their managers have to prepare for.”
For line managers Wyles says that this means a personalised coaching strategy is needed. “Managers need to do more than simply check that apprentices are doing the work allocated to them. They need to know someone is thing about their personal development agenda and helping them to become the best they can be.”
“The generation of young people starting apprenticeships today are used to immediate feedback in every aspect of their lives. When they don’t get it, they don’t worry so much as challenge,” Gary Wyles, Managing Director, Festo GB.
This is a very different role to mentoring, Wyles emphasizes. A mentor should provide pastoral support but a coach should look to “enable an apprentice to grow in self assessment. To recognise their own strength and weaknesses in a methodical way. Not just in terms of technical or specialist skills like how to make a turned product on a lathe for instance, but for skills like communication. They must come to understand what adds value to them as an employee.”
Regrettably, says Wyles, “this coaching role is largely misunderstood by managers and therefore often not well practised.” Furthermore, Wyles claims this problem does not only apply to apprenticeship management.
“It used to be the case that you had to continuously develop yourself in order to move forward in an organisation. Today you must continuously develop yourself just to maintain you position in an organisation and this is just as true for management as anyone else,” Gary Wyles, Managing Director, Festo GB.
“This is an attitude to management which line managers ought to be applying to all staff,” he says. “We need to move to a position where managers are seen as authentic leaders. But in many organisations I have seen this would require such a huge cultural change as to seem unachievable.”
The only way to move forward is with top management buy-in says Wyles. “Top management must recognise and demonstrate this new management style. Without this middle management and line managers will find it difficult to commit.”
Having gained top down leadership on developing coach-style management however, Wyles says “the training part is relatively easy. A three day course will with a bit of follow up activity will achieve a big difference which will be noticeable to apprentices and the existing workforce.”
Of course for the stubborn and traditional manager there is the possibility that they will resent being pushed into a ‘teacher’ role, that they will see extra work being piled on them and, ultimately , that they reveal they are not capable of taking on a coaching role.
Wyles suggests that there are some ways around this: “You might consider giving some of the coaching role to the apprentice mentor. That way you should more or less continue to fulfil the expectations of the scheme.” But the danger is that a company will not be able to attract the top level of candidate continues Wyles. “If a candidate see better structure elsewhere then that is where they will go. We must accept that we are competing, both within manufacturing between individual businesses, and with other sectors, to attract the best talent.”
Summing up Wyles says, “It used to be the case that you had to continuously develop yourself in order to move forward in an organisation. Today you must continuously develop yourself just to maintain you position in an organisation and this is just as true for management as anyone else. The increasing uptake of apprenticeships will bring this to a head.”
For one competitive SME the development of its apprenticeship programme has been an onging source of pride and success. To find out more about the attitude Norbar Torque tools, a family owned business based in Oxfordshire, take to apprenticeship delivery read TM’s interview with HR manager Wanda Stewart-Lee and manufacturing manager Martin Reynolds. Coming soon!