10 step guide for SMEs recruiting an apprentice

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1. What type of apprentice are you looking for?

When you’re deciding how to recruit an apprentice , it’s important to consider the type of person you’re looking to hire. To reach out to the right type of applicant, you’ll need to draft a quality person specification and job description.

This is your chance to set out what you’re looking for by listing the key attributes you want from your new apprentice. Remember to list not just the skills you’re looking for right now, but also in the future as they develop and learn – over 70 per cent of apprentices remain at their place of work after completing their apprenticeship.

A full job description should include:

  • Job title
  • Main duties
  • Purpose of the role
  • What part they will play
  • Location of the role
  • Information about your company

Remember to stick to the core values of the role when writing the specification and description, as your apprentice may have limited experience of the world of work so far. A realistic guide is your best option to ensure enthusiastic apprentices-to-be aren’t put off by an overly technical job advert.

A job description and person specification are also required to complete the Government’s apprenticeship vacancy template, so it’s well worth getting this done to make sure the vacancy gets as much exposure as possible.

2. Decide how much you’re going to pay

An apprentices’ wage is set at the National Minimum Wage, depending on their age and the level and stage of apprenticeship they’re on.

In the first year, apprentices must be paid at least £4.30 an hour, rising to the current rate relative to their age after the completion of their first year:

  • Under 18: £4.62
  • 18 to 20: £6.56
  • 21 to 22: £8.36
  • 23 and over: £8.91

These rates change on the 1st April each year, and can be checked on the UK Government website.

You can’t pay less than the Government’s National Minimum Wage, but you can pay more, which is worth considering in line with the level of skill and study associated with the apprenticeship role.

3. Advertising the apprenticeship

So, you’ve drafted a clear job description and person specification, and decided the rate of pay for your new apprentice. The next step is advertising your apprenticeship, and when it comes to hiring an apprentice, advertisement requirements are different.

Support on advertising the role is available from registered apprenticeship training providers, who will advise on how to recruit an apprentice and best practice for apprentice recruitment steps.

This will involve submitting the vacancy on the Government’s official apprenticeship website, which is where you’ll be able to reach the best possible apprentice candidates actively looking for opportunities.

Don’t rely only on word of mouth, as this will limit your number of applicants and won’t always satisfy equal opportunities or apprenticeship requirements.

If your own website has recruitment information and vacancies, you can use it to link the official job advert on Apprenticeships.gov.uk, and you can also do this on other job sites like Indeed.com to cast your net as wide as possible.

4. Tracking apprentice applications

Once the job advert is live, monitoring the number of applications is simple. Firstly, you’ll be supported by your registered apprenticeship training provider, who should be in touch with regular updates on apprentice applicants.

Through the official apprenticeships hub, all your applications can be accessed in one place, making it easy to review them all. If you’ve also advertised on other platforms, remember to pull all information together to make an informed decision.

It’s also important to ensure your review of applications is fair and consistent – speak to your apprenticeship training provider who will take steps to make the process compliant.

5. Shortlisting apprentice applications

Once your all applications have come through within the closing date, it’s time to start shortlisting applicants you want to interview. You have the choice of letting your apprenticeship training provider do the first review or doing this yourself – bear in mind this could be a time-consuming process if, like many apprenticeship job adverts, you’ve received hundreds of applications.

Ideally, the process should involve:

  • More than one person – to avoid potential bias
  • Support from a registered apprenticeship training provider – they’ll help make the process due diligent

Once several suitable candidates have been selected, check to see whether they have previous employment. If this is the case, you’ll be able to enquire for references to find out more about their suitability for the role.

Remember that if a candidate doesn’t have experience of work, this doesn’t mean you can’t find out more – references from schools and colleges will be available, and you can ask your apprenticeship training provider about accessing this.

Next is inviting them to the interview, which your provider can take care of. In any case, the invite should cover:

  • The interview location
  • Interview time
  • Information to bring
  • Information about the process – for example, a practical exercise they may need to carry out as part of the interview

Within the invitation to the interview, remember to ask the candidates if they have any special requirements that you may need to consider to satisfy equal opportunities.

6. Preparing for the interview process

When preparing for the interviews, you’ll need to consider whether you want a traditional interview format where you ask questions, or a practical one with an activity or task to complete.

The interview stage could be short, taking just a few days to complete, or take place over a few weeks if you’d like candidates to go through a series of tests. Whichever option you choose, you must make sure the same process applies to everyone to maintain the fairness of the interviews.

It’s best practice for two people to interview a candidate, and the second interviewer could be another senior person in your business, someone you trust, or even a qualified member of staff at your training provider.

Only ask questions relevant to the job, as you’ll want to give candidates clear opportunities to speak about their skills and past experiences. The interview should give you plenty to assess and think about, but you could also set up a group task and survey how each candidate approaches it.

7. Carrying out the interview process

The interview is a candidate’s chance to form an impression of your business, just as it is yours to find out about their background and personality. First impressions count, so it’s best practice to be well planned and put across the best of your business.

When a candidate arrives for interview, abiding by the following steps will put you in a positive light and protect the process by keeping it equally fair for all.

  • Keep on time – keeping to schedule shows your professionalism and respect for the candidate
  • Welcome the candidate – make sure they’re introduced to all relevant people for the interview
  • Explain the interview format – as well as how the job role fits within the company

Remember to take detailed notes for when you’re reviewing later on, and only make professional and relevant comments, as candidates can request written feedback following the interview.

8. Selecting and appointing the successful candidate

Once all information is gathered, it’s time to make the decision. Although you can take advice from your training provider, it’s up to you on who you hire and what you base the decision on, be it eagerness to learn or previous experience.

When you’ve made your mind up, inform the training provider and the candidate themselves. The best way to tell the candidate is via a phone call, which should be shortly followed up by an official offer letter, which can be emailed or posted as a paper copy.

Next, you’ll need to set a start date for your new apprentice, and this should be done in liaison with your training provider as there may be dates already coordinated to align with the start of their course.

9. Giving feedback and notifying unsuccessful candidates

It’s very important to provide feedback to the unsuccessful candidates once you’ve reached your decision. This should be honest and constructive advice, to help them when looking for work in the future – as there could be an opportunity for them to reapply in the future.

Your feedback notes should be drafted up and kept in your records, as this is a crucial step in the recruitment process. By keeping a detailed account of the interviews, you can ensure evidence is available to show you abided by equality and diversity laws.

If a candidate complains about the way recruitment was carried out, you’ll need these records to prove you haven’t gone against best practice and anti-discrimination legislation.

10. Creating the apprenticeship agreement and onboarding

The final step before you start working with your new apprentice is to create an apprenticeship agreement. A mandatory requirement, this is a document to confirm that as an employee, they are undertaking an apprenticeship in the relevant trade.

It is also used to confirm the individual employment arrangements between yourself and the apprentice, and a further chance to set out the requirements for the role.

You’ll also need a plan for the apprentice’s first days at work, this will include introducing them to their day-to-day roles, and assigning a line manager, which may well be you as the owner if you’re an SME trades business.

You may also want to provide a technical training plan to go alongside their formal apprenticeship training, and above all, ensure they feel welcomed and a valued member of the team.

Recruiting an apprentice is a big step for any trades business, but one that can be rewarding for years to come. 


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