Launching an apprenticeship programme: Five top tips from the experts

For all the documents, guides, and FAQs, sometimes you need to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.

1. Make use of support systems like the Apprenticeship Ambassador Network

Neil Weller, as well as being part of an engineering firm that runs apprenticeships, is also Chair of the Apprenticeship Ambassador Network in London.

The AAN covers the whole of England, split into 9 different regions. Each has an Employer Chair and a Young Apprenticeships Chair, who work together to celebrate, signpost, storytell, and provide insight around apprenticeships.”

The Apprenticeship Ambassador Network website is full of information for every type of apprenticeship in every sector, plus guides and factsheets, monthly updates, parent and carer packs, and the opportunity to ‘Ask an Ambassador’ for personalised advice.

Neil’s advice: don’t try to do it on your own. As well as his AAN, he also recommends the Institute for Apprenticeships – which helps employers to select the apprenticeship that’s right for them. All 600 standards are grouped by occupation – so employers can start with the eventual job and work backwards to design the training pathway.


2. Don’t get overwhelmed by the documents

Andy Rayner, Head of Apprenticeships at Travis Perkins, told us what it was like setting up as an employer provider for such a large operation:

If I’m being honest, we were scared. It can be daunting when you read all of the paperwork, but once you understand the language, it’s nowhere near as complex as we thought. We got it up and running and it’s really working for us.”

It can be intimidating to understand frameworks, trailblazers, all of the levels, the 20% and how to record it. But it’s worth taking some time to understand each term because – as Andy says – it's much simpler than it first appears.

Many employers are put off by the apparent complexity, but ultimately end up missing out on a great opportunity. Some of Travis Perkins’ current branch managers started out as apprentices.


3. Understand the apprentice mindset to communicate effectively

Rebecca Hopwood, Head of Sales at UCAS, shared some of the reasons why employers need to embrace apprenticeships and the apprentice mindset:

Interest in apprenticeships is increasing but opportunities are declining. More than half of those interested in applying for university next year are also interested in the prospect of an apprenticeship, but a similar amount of employers felt unable to commit to apprenticeships in the immediate future. In 2019/20, the number of apprenticeship starts fell in every enterprise size band compared to the previous year.”

For employers who see the value and want to communicate this to potential apprentices, here’s what they want to hear from you.

  • The starting salary, job description, typical tasks, and skills gained
  • The prospects and progression of the apprenticeship
  • The qualifications, experiences, and skills required
  • Some examples of successful apprentices
  • The social side of the apprenticeship
  • How and when to apply


4. Create a safe space and culture

Andrew Erwich, Head of Apprenticeship Solutions at QA, told us that apprenticeships are much more than learning programmes. They are cultural shifts within a business where there’s a safe environment for people to learn and fail without chastisement. Apprenticeships should also represent opportunities for incumbent staff:

During COVID-19 there was a definite shift towards existing employee development, meaning employers were encouraging and equipping their staff to upskill rather than look for new hires. That also saw a shift in the increase of degree and higher apprenticeships as they were being used to develop senior skills.”


5. Support apprentices throughout their application process

Anna Cooke has looked after Deutsche Bank’s graduate and intern hiring for more than 15 years.

When launching apprenticeships, the initial pipeline for applications to Deutsche Bank was extremely low. It wasn’t easy, considering the firm had a very low presence in schools, but over time even as numbers began to rise, Anna started to notice that there was work to do in coaching and mentoring the candidates regarding:

  • their obligations in the application and recruitment processes
  • the role of competency interviews and how to handle them
  • hesitancy around psychometric tests and moving forward.

Anna was scheduling weekly calls with both candidates and colleagues, educating both sides on the apprenticeships process. But now, those first apprentices are ready to start and Anna has extremely high hopes.