SMEs guide to apprenticeships by Crissi Williams, CEO, The ITP

Updated: Feb 7, 2021

by Crissi Williams, CEO, The ITP

Today officially marks the start of National Apprenticeship Week (NAW). Now in its fourteenth year, NAW is a national campaign which aims to showcase the impact of apprenticeships on communities, local businesses and regional economies. This year’s theme is ‘Build the future’; a sentence perfectly fitting with the benefits apprentices can bring to a business.

Traditionally apprenticeships were considered as only viable for big businesses with large enough budgets to cover off recruitment, salary and training costs. Nowadays apprenticeships are accessible for all. There are over 700 standards available ranging from careers in animal care to cyber security.

For SMEs, hiring an apprentice is a great way to build a skilled workforce for the future, developing your talent from the ground up.

What is an apprenticeship?

  • An apprenticeship is a real job where an individual learns, gains experience and gets paid.

  • They are an employee with a contract of employment and holiday leave.

  • It can take between one and six years to complete an apprenticeship depending on the level.

  • By the end of an apprenticeship, they will have the right skills and knowledge needed for their career.

  • The apprentice spends 80% of their time ‘on the job training’ and the remaining 20% off the job. This can be done in their place of work, at a local training provider or online.

  • Each apprentice needs to complete an end point assessment to finish their scheme.

Benefits of hiring an apprentice

There are so many benefits to hiring an apprentice. Many employers report that recruiting apprentices has improved retention. Most apprentices stay on with the employer after the scheme ends as apprenticeships traditionally build loyalty to the employer who supported them.

According to the National Apprenticeship Service:

· 86% of employers said apprenticeships helped them develop skills relevant to their organisation.

· 78% of employers said apprenticeships helped them improve productivity.

· 74% of employers said apprenticeships helped them improve the quality of their product or service.

What’s more, than can help you to bring talent into your organisation at any level. Apprenticeships are open to anyone over the age of 16 living in England. They are available from Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) right through to Levels 6 and 7 (which is the equivalent of a bachelor’s or master’s degree). Some also offer additional professional qualifications. They can also help train or upskill existing employees as the apprentices are at the forefront of training and development learning about the latest trends and thinking.

Funding available

Currently businesses are defined by levy-paying and non-levy paying. Levy payers are those organisations with a wage bill that exceeds £3m, where they will be paying 0.5% of this to the government. These funds are automatically drawn down from their levy account to pay for apprenticeship training.

For non-levy payers, the Government co-invests at a rate of 95%. Therefore, these employers only pay 5% of the apprentices training costs, payable in monthly instalments.

Currently the following funding is available:

  • £1,000 for hiring an apprentice who is aged 16 – 18 years old.

  • Or under 25 with an education, health and care plan or has been in the care of their local authority.

In addition, until the end of March 2021:

  • £2,000 for apprentices age 16 to 24

  • £1,500 for apprentices age 25 and over

The National Apprenticeship Service has a useful guide to funding on its website.

How to start a scheme

There are a few things you will need to consider before starting your scheme, these include:

  • Identify skills gap – where could an apprentice assist your business? Is there a business need?

  • Create job description – this needs to be robust and will help you manage and develop the apprentice. If you get this right from the start then your apprentice will understand what’s expected of them, and you can support them effectively.

  • Identify the right apprenticeship standard – see the government website for a full list.

  • Find a training provider – you can search the National Apprenticeship Service to find one offering the standard you need.

  • Link with NAS

  • Advertise the role – use your job description to shape the basis of your advert and consider where your target audience is most likely to see it. We use job boards but also find that social media (including Facebook Jobs is useful).

  • Onboarding – this is an extremely important part of the apprentice’s experience. A bad onboarding programme can have serious implications further down the line. Think about how you can manage this process virtually as we continue to work from home. Put together a detailed programme for the first few weeks so everyone knows where they stand.

  • Ongoing training – a large part of the role is the ongoing training and as an employer you will need to support them with this.

  • Mentoring & development – think about a buddy scheme or assigning them a mentor so that they feel they have someone they can go to with issues or support.

It’s also important to note that apprentices have the same employment law rights as other employees, which means:

· They should be paid and be entitled to the National Minimum Wage rates

· Allowed time for training or study as part of the apprenticeship (which is paid)

· They are entitled to holiday pay and other employee rights

The ITP runs an apprenticeship scheme on behalf of partner organisations, to find out more visit

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