Last week I posted that I was off to South London Apprenticeships Fair on a fact finding mission to see what is involved in taking on an apprentice.

My impression before going was that it was a fairly pain free process to take on an apprentice.  I am pleased to say that it is even easier than I thought.  Not that employing anyone is easy, just that the hurdles to taking on an apprentice are relatively straight forward.

Firstly let me provide a little overview of how the scheme works.  The basic idea is that your apprentice spends some time in college but most of the time training on the job (minimum of 16hrs per week).  The time in college is provided by a training provider and an employer provides the training on the job.  Typically an apprentice spends 4 days a week on the job and a day at college.  16-18 year olds are fully funded for their study by the state, 19 – 24 year olds are partially funded and 25+ year olds struggle to get funding.  The employer must pay a minimum apprenticeship wage of £2.50 / hr for apprentices over 18 years old (nothing for 16- 18 year olds).  They are encouraged to pay more an attract older or more skilled  aprpentices by offering more salary.  A figure of £170/wk is quoted in one piece of literature I picked up as an upper end salary.

So that covers the bare bones of the scheme.  Now let me  deal with what you need in place before you take on an apprentice.  At first appearance the requirements seemed to be a health and safety policy, employers liability insurance and a registration with HMRC for payroll (PAYE).  However when you dig a little further it turns out that really all you need is the employers liability insurance.  The reason for this is that an industry has sprung up amongst training providers to provide apprenticeships and they are doing everything they can ease the way for potential employers.

From chatting to a few people it appears that employers willing to take on an apprentice are in high demand.  They struggle most to place 16-18 year olds but employers willing to take on older apprentices are are also much sought.  As a result it seems to me that the agencies involved are making a big effort to take away as much of the pain from employers.

For example I found one agency London Apprenticeship Company who have structured the arrangement thus:  they employ the apprentice (saving you the trouble of setting up PAYE or dealing with that admin), they arrange the training and help you to recruit a candidate as you would normally, they pay the apprentice and bill you.  In other words you are not their employer, you are saved all of that admistration.  An added advantage is that if they turn out to be the wrong person you don’t even need to worry that you are sacking them and all the regulation that goes with that.  Why? Because the London Apprenticeship Company is their employer and continues to pay them.  Another agency I spoke to about Health and Safety will also support you to get you Health and Safety Policy in place.  I would recommend that anyone considering this does not simply make the Health and Safety aspect a box ticking exercise, but it seemed to me that this particular company were more or less offering something off the shelf to fulfill this requirement.

I also asked around about what happens if your apprentice turns out to be no good.  Universally the agencies who were there seemed to be saying that you are free to let someone go and that they would quickly find a suitable replacement.  Naturally they were keen to say that they made their best effort to avoid this by filtering the candidates they offered up.  I asked one agency what the success rate of candidates from the employers point of view and the answer that came back was that around10% of placements did not work out.  I didn’t think that was too worrying.

Of course employing people is not just about hiring, firing and cost.  It is also about managing people and in the case of apprenticeships, training them.  If you are considering taking on an apprentice I would make sure you plan for the time you will need to spend with them.  Certainly at the beginning you will have extra work to do until they can take work off you.

Like most people I talk to I am in favour of the scheme from a community point of view.  Young people have a tough hand to play coming to the jobs market at this time.  Setting that aside though, I can see big benefits for small businesses.  As I said in my last blog, it appears to provide a good half way house for those who would struggle to take on a full employee.