Hiring for the future: how the benefits of taking on an apprentice go beyond your business

Dec 21, 2018Apprentices, Employment, Grow your business

No one knows the needs of your business better than you do. When it comes to recruiting new staff, taking on an apprentice – who you can train and develop yourself – is an investment with long-term dividends.

We all learn differently – some are suited to formal education in a classroom, while others flourish when on the job with tools in their hands. The apprenticeship model works on the principle that our learning is cemented through practice, making on-the-job training more comprehensively effective than education that is limited to theory within a classroom.


A case in point

Josh Gwilliam began his carpentry training with block courses at Unitec that covered the necessary theory. After a year of fitting the two-week courses in around his labouring job, he changed direction and began an apprenticeship through BCITO. “This worked much better for me as I could learn while on the job. I was effectively getting paid to learn. And I wasn’t learning the theory in isolation and then trying to remember it when I got back on the tools. I was able to put the things I was learning into practise straight away.”

Twenty-two years later, Josh recently took off his tool belt and started working as a training advisor for an apprenticeship organisation in Northland. After two decades of hands-on building and site management, he is now excited about a role where he can give back to young apprentices and encourage them in their chosen trades. “Trade skills are so valuable to New Zealand, and I think our young people especially need to be shown how they can contribute. What I love about my job is seeing apprentices take a hold of the fact that they are part of a bigger picture – they’re learning skills that really matter. What they are learning has a clear purpose.”


Business benefits

The benefits of an apprenticeship for anyone looking to train or retrain in a particular industry are obvious. But what about the businesses taking on apprentices? For employers, taking on an apprentice means that you can deliver customised and relevant training that is of crucial benefit to your business, as well as your industry in general. What’s more, the benefits of a well-trained apprentice can be experienced relatively quickly within your business. And with a longer-term view, you can foresee those benefits extending well into the future, as your industry is supported by the next generation of well-prepared workers.

The cost of training an apprentice is a valid consideration but should not be the deal-breaker some employers conclude it to be. Generally speaking, the first year of an apprenticeship may impact your business (depending on its size) in terms of productivity as you invest time in training. Over the course of the employment relationship, however, your business will gain much more than it loses in that first year. By the midpoint, your apprentice will be working more independently and their productivity and skills can bring in greater returns than an unqualified labourer. By the end of the apprenticeship, their value in monetary terms is twice that of a labouring counterpart. Not only can the value be seen in your charge-out rates, but your apprentice has had bespoke training, therefore their contribution to your business in terms of skill, ability, knowledge and understanding of your workplace culture is impressive.


A growth issue

A critical factor for New Zealand is that there aren’t enough apprentices in the system. With regards to the construction industry, for example, figures released in October 2018 show there are currently 12,000 building and construction apprentices around the country – the highest number yet – but this is still tens of thousands short of the expected need. In an interview on RNZ, Warwick Quinn, chief executive of BCITO, stated that without enough training to produce work-ready builders, we will rely on immigration to meet our nation’s skilled trade requirements. While this is okay in the short term, it’s not a sustainable long-term skills pathway. Nor should it be, as this would neglect the resources in front of us and miss the opportunity we have to equip and up-skill the next generation of our country’s workforce.

In an era where practical skills are being lost, an apprenticeship provides a deliberate pathway for passing on your valuable and hard-earned skills to the next generation. There is a cost, but it’s short-term – especially in light of long-term progressive gains on a macro scale.