Why professions are hiring apprentices not just graduates

Why Hire Apprentice Sticky Content 1Increasingly, the country’s biggest employers are looking beyond traditional graduates and turning to apprentices to fulfill their recruitment needs. What’s the appeal for employers – and how can they support apprentices once they’re on board?

There has been a shift in the way young people are recruited to the world of work. Today’s employers regard apprenticeships highly, considering apprentices to be the most employable of young people.

Employers often speak highly of the impact apprentices make on their businesses. Last year, according to data from the National Apprenticeship Services,  76% of employers believed apprentices made them more productive and 77% believed they became more competitive with their input.  Apprentices may be trained to fill future skills gaps, and are malleable to the company’s needs.

Employers who traditionally wooed only graduates on their milkrounds are now offering apprenticeships too, among them the BBC, EY (formerly Ernst & Young), Barclays, HSBC, Santander, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer. Law is another growth area too: higher apprenticeships in legal services will come in 2016. They’ll take 5-6 years to complete and will equate to a law degree, meaning that the first lawyers without a university education will be able to qualify in 2021-22.


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What’s the appeal of apprentices for employers?

It’s not hard to see why employers like to take on apprentices straight from school and train them up.

Practical skills

Employers have rigorous selection procedures to ensure that they choose apprentices with the right attitude, work ethic and potential to enhance their business. Apprentices offer extensive practical skills, which count for a lot in this assessment.

Practical skills generally have a more tangible effect on a business than academic ones. Employers can tailor practical training to their requirements, so apprenticeships focus on skills that will actually be used, rather than more theoretical topics.


Employers report that apprentices, especially those who come straight from school, often embrace a workplace culture quicker than graduates who have had considerable autonomy over their own time, study and vacations over a 3-year degree period.

It can be an unsettling culture shock for a graduate to jump straight into a commute, a busily regimented working schedule and a month’s holiday per year. For a school-leaver, on the other hand, the rigours and discipline of the school day are still fresh.

Positive attitude

Employers similarly notice that some graduates may struggle to readjust to the idea of ‘starting at the bottom’ again, having reached a pinnacle of academic achievement and standing at their university.

Apprentices, on the other hand, feel that they are naturally stepping up from school into their career, so are more cheerfully willing to embrace the inevitable junior or menial aspects of any first job.


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What’s in it for the apprentices?

An apprenticeship is focused on training for a specific career or industry. While a traditional degree may mean a graduate could apply for a wider range of different jobs, apprentices have usually made the decision that they would rather be working and earning than studying, and their experience stands them in good stead for finding other employment.

When a young person chooses to take a university degree, unless they have independent means and work in their spare time, they will graduate with around £27k of student debt, and still have to go out and find work training. Apprentices, meanwhile, train for up to four years and are paid while they work and learn. At the end of their apprenticeships they may have:

  • A degree-level qualification
  • No student debt
  • The sklls to take their career to the next level


How can employers support apprentices? 

Practical training and study release are the core elements of an apprenticeship, but employers need to develop softer skills in their people too, such as teamwork, communication skills and time management.

Outdoor training is a tried-and-tested way to help employers get the best out of their apprentices. By taking teams of apprentices out of their comfort zones and presenting them with wilderness-style challenges such as rock-climbing or abseiling, apprentices must learn to work and support each other if they are to succeed.

Unilever, for example, begins its four-year engineering apprenticeships with an 11-day Outward Bound Trust wilderness environment programme that includes:

  • A two-night leadership development expedition
  • A series of projects, managing finances, time and people
  • Two-way communications tasks
  • Challenges to build awarness of impact upon others


Unilever noticed a tangible change in their apprentices after the programme – they had discovered their team capabilities, increased their self-esteem, and were now able to take ownership of and accountability for tasks.

At the end of the programme, all the Unilever apprentices said that they felt they could better:

  • Plan for their personal development
  • Adapt to different jobs and roles
  • Communicate and achieve rapport with different people.

See the potential business benefits of building apprentices' skills in arange of case studies here.