The Benefits and Challenges of Taking on School Leavers for Apprenticeships

Posted by Liz on 25 Oct 2018

Taking on school or college leavers for apprenticeships can deliver unique benefits, providing your business with eager, flexible recruits with an aptitude for learning - but hiring from this demographic also presents its own challenges that need to be addressed with a tailored approach.

Businesses across the UK are currently rediscovering apprenticeships in a major way. Recent government initiatives to incentivise apprentice hiring are serving to remind many companies of the advantages this recruitment pathway can provide, particularly at a time when competition for ready-trained, highly qualified staff is fiercer than ever.

However, the resurgence of the apprenticeship model is also serving as a wake-up call for many organisations about their relative lack of experience in targeting school leavers for recruitment.

This demographic of young people share a lot in common with the well-tapped graduate market, but are also very different in many other respects, meaning that strategies designed to attract one group may not necessarily work for the other.

To really stand out as a business that truly understands the specific needs, concerns and expectations of young people, it's essential to give proper consideration to what makes them stand out in the jobs market, and develop a recruitment approach to reflect that.

The advantages of targeting school leavers as apprentices

Devising a new mindset for targeting school leavers can be a challenging and time-consuming process, but the rewards are certainly worth it, as these bright young workers can offer a number of attributes and capabilities that are difficult to find elsewhere.

Flexibility and an aptitude for learning

Taking on staff with proven credentials creates a risk that they may be stuck in a certain way of doing things, and these habits can be difficult to break. By contrast, school leavers fresh out of full-time education will come to you with a learner's mindset, and will be quick to adapt to the knowledge, skills and working style you require of them.

Fresh thinking and perspectives

School leavers can often teach your company just as much as they learn from you. Hiring raw, talented youngsters who've grown up with the kind of technology skills and social media savvy that can't be taught could bring a refreshing perspective to your workplace, and help you generate the new ideas and approaches a business needs to thrive and grow.

Lower costs

Hiring a proven superstar can be an expensive proposition, and most businesses would prefer to take bright prospects and train them up into the superstars of tomorrow. This method results in much lower upfront costs, and significant returns on investment over time.

Long-term loyalty

Demand for top talent is currently so high that it can be hard to keep hold of your best workers. By taking a chance on a school leaver and training them up within your company culture over many years, you can foster the kind of loyalty that's difficult to recreate with a "gun-for-hire" model.

According to a RateMyApprenticeship survey,

98% of apprentices would recommend their programme to a friend! 

Potential Challenges to Address

Despite the clear benefits of providing more apprenticeship opportunities to school leavers, this market remains relatively untapped due to the specific challenges involved in attracting this talent effectively.

Competing with the attraction of university

For many young people, attending university has come to be seen as a societal expectation or essential rite of passage, with learning a trade wrongly characterised as a softer option. Challenging this misconception can often be difficult for businesses keen on hiring apprentices.

From the apprentice panel we held at our annual RateMyApprenticeship Awards, there were many instances where university was also seen as the only option to embark on certain career paths, when this was untrue.

Finding candidates with the right skills

Because most school leavers have not yet had a chance to prove themselves in the workplace, it can be hard to pick out the ones with the right talents, mindset and drive to succeed. This is compounded by the fact that conventional recruitment methods can be intimidating to young people, particularly the interview phase, thus preventing them from showing their best.

The influence of parents and teachers

Any difficulties in convincing school leavers of the benefits of apprenticeships are compounded by the fact that many still rely heavily on the guidance of parents and teachers, who may share or amplify their concerns. 

According to a study by ABM UK in July 2018:

Of the 74% of parents who knew what an apprenticeship was, only 14% considered it to be a good option for their child.

This means businesses need to do even more to win them over.

A reluctance to commit to a long-term opportunity

For young people weighing up their futures, any placement that could tie them down for an extended period is likely to feel daunting, regardless of how appealing it might otherwise be. It's up to the organisation to explain what they can provide that will make it worth all that time.

The Importance of a Tailored Approach to Recruiting School Leavers

Most of these challenges can be explained by a lack of understanding among school leavers of the kinds of career paths and opportunities apprenticeships can provide, driven in part by the business community's failure to reach out to this demographic.

As such, adopting a tailored approach to recruiting school leavers can deliver wide-ranging benefits. Naturally, standard methods such as online advertisements and social media postings will be as important as ever, but it's also worth considering how a broader approach to outreach could be achieved.

For example, many firms invest in school engagement strategies, fostering productive relationships with local education providers, students and parents by organising workshops, open days, work placements and other events.

Once you've attracted their attention, it's vital to then ensure your recruitment process has been adapted to the needs and priorities of school leavers.

Provide a welcoming approach that puts school leavers at ease, and emphasise how an apprenticeship will help them to acquire new skills, learn from experienced senior staff and put them on the fast track to a long and successful career, all while receiving a regular wage.

By doing so, your organisation will be able to gain a crucial competitive edge when it comes to accessing this uniquely talented group, and allow you to reap the benefit of their abilities for many years to come.

Oliver Sidwell, our co-founder, adds:

"Businesses today have plenty of routes to offer young people a first step into their business. From work experience to internships, apprenticeships to gap year programmes and placements to graduate programmes... businesses are able to attract and engage young people from age 14 right through to 24.

"The rise in popularity of apprenticeships is challenging the traditional norm of recruiting university graduates for many businesses and it's empowering to see businesses diversify their routes available to be increasingly relevant for the talent they need. In the last five years, we've seen plenty of businesses reduce graduate intakes to introduce and grow apprentice programmes.

"For certain industries and roles, it makes perfect sense to train, develop and grow from within through a more vocational path. Over the next five years, I've every confidence this trend will continue as businesses understand both how to make best use of the levy and the longer-term benefits apprentice programmes bring in comparison to traditional graduate programmes."