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Apprenticeships and small businesses - the pros and cons

Offering apprenticeships in your small business can benefit both your company and young workers in many ways. But as with any big decision involving your business, it’s important to consider both the advantages and disadvantages.

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Apprentice and business owner
Taking on an apprentice is a great way to show your business cares about the next generation of workers

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a new package of reforms to allow more small businesses to offer apprenticeships. In his speech, he confirmed that there would be a £60 million investment which would pay for the training of all apprentices under the age of 21 in small businesses. The idea is that this will reduce the cost burden on businesses and open up more opportunities for young people trying to get into work.

So with these more positive announcements - and of course the weekly reminder from Lord Sugar about the potential downsides of having an apprentice - I wanted to share some of the pros and cons in offering an apprenticeship in your small business. 

Pro - A fresh perspective

Whether your business is just getting started or you’ve been trading for years, a fresh perspective is no bad thing. Most apprentices are likely to have just finished school or college, so this is likely to be their first experience in the workplace. And while the general approach is for you to teach the apprentice about what your business does and upskill them in a trade, you can certainly learn a thing or two at the same time.

Con - Limited experience

Apprenticeships can be offered to anyone regardless of age or skill level. But typically an apprentice will be looking to learn. When you hire an employee through traditional methods you’re usually looking for them to have some experience so they can hit the ground running. With an apprentice you’re looking for an appetite to learn and a good attitude. What they lack in experience they can make up for in determination - just expect a longer learning curve and the potential for mistakes to be made along the way. 

Pro - Cost-effective

Hiring an apprentice is a bit more give and take than hiring an employee. You obviously need to pay an apprentice, but because they’re learning from you and receiving knowledge and skills, the wage you offer is typically lower to start with. And with funding available to pay for training and courses (and more funding coming from 1 April, 2024) it can be much more cost-effective than hiring experienced employees. 

Con - Time and resource

While funding is available to train apprentices - there’s still an investment of your time and resources. This is certainly something to bear in mind when deciding if an apprentice is the right choice for your business. If your line of work is fast-paced with little opportunity for on the job training, then a more experienced employee might be a better option. But if you can build in the time to invest in training an apprentice, you may retain them for longer and you can train them to do things in a way that works best for your business. 

Pro - Investment in the future

None of us can work forever - so it’s important to think about the future workforce. Having a pipeline of skilled workers isn’t just a nice thing to have - it’s crucial. By taking on an apprentice, you are contributing to the next generation of skilled workers. Nurturing talent and moulding ambition can be incredibly rewarding for both you and an apprentice. 

Con - Unpredictability

Apprenticeships can be a two-way street. Like with a probation period for a new employee, there’s a risk that an apprentice may not take to the role, or you might feel things aren’t working out. There’s also the risk that an apprentice may move on when their apprenticeship is complete, perhaps seeking a higher wage or because they’ve decided it’s not for them. Either way this can lead to a disruption, particularly if you’ve started to assign responsibilities to them. You can mitigate this by planning ahead, being open and transparent with the apprentice and checking in regularly about what happens when the apprenticeship comes to an end.

There are many advantages to taking on apprenticeship, and many of the disadvantages can be addressed with planning and open conversation. If you’re thinking about offering an apprenticeship and want more information - visit the UK Government’s website here

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About Kyle Eaton

Kyle is a finance editor specialising in all things related to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). He has over ten years' experience working in financial services and as a writer.

View Kyle Eaton's full biography here or visit the money.co.uk press centre for our latest news.