Tracy Ewen is the Managing Director of IGF, a provider of invoice finance to SMEs, and has lots of first-hand experience working with an apprentice. She understands the value an apprenticeship scheme brings to a small business, as well as the value for young people and the economy. Here, she talks about her business' own initiative, and why other SMEs need to recruit their own apprentice.
Investment in the future
At IGF – part of the Greater London Enterprise Group– we see an apprenticeship scheme as an investment for the future. We fund our own scheme, although there is certainly funding available for businesses with fewer than 50 employees to implement a scheme of their own.
Our intention is to offer our apprentice a full-time position at the end of the scheme, and it would be great if more SMEs like us could give more young workers the same opportunity.
The value to a small business
A small business in any sector can access fresh, new ideas into the organisation by hiring an apprentice. In this way, businesses are not only developing the career of a loyal member of staff, but also gaining a valuable new perspective that having a younger team member can bring.
Hiring an apprentice can also be a great way to bridge the skills gap within the team. Apprenticeships provide the opportunity to hire and train someone for a specific role, rather than training an existing member of the team alongside their current work, which may result in reduced efficiency and greater training costs for the business.
Research by the National Audit Office has shown that for every £1 a business spends on an apprentice, £18 is paid back into the UK economy.
Tracy Ewen, IGF
Apprenticeship schemes can pay for themselves in this way within a few years of implementation, improving a business’ bottom line by boosting productivity, particularly if a small business is eligible for government funding to help with the programme.
By passing on skills and knowledge to an apprentice, businesses will benefit from a valuable member of staff who complements other employees, as well as the activity and success of a team.
At IGF, we want to make sure that apprentices benefit from the scheme as much as we do. Many fear that the National Living Wage might result in poorly paid apprenticeships who will be used for cheap labour. However, I strongly believe that despite these changes, apprentices should be offered a salary in line with their age and developing experience, rather than being limited by the minimum amount suggested. Investing in an apprentice will only serve to benefit a business in the long-term.
Kick-starting an apprenticeship scheme
Our office is based outside a main city, so building relationships and supporting the local area is very important for us. Once we had decided to introduce an apprenticeship scheme, we approached a college near our office in Kent, which supports the apprenticeship programme. The college was able to recommend candidates as well as answer any questions that we had.
Finding the right person
We recruited our apprentice using exactly the same process that we use for our other employees. Whilst as a younger candidate, they might not have the same level of interview experience.
You need to make sure that anyone you take on will add value to our business, so the rules are no different from any other member of staff. As such, all candidates will gain valuable interview experience even if they are unsuccessful.
The apprentice's job
Our apprentice gets experience in every part of our business, working as a regular member of staff. We see this as being a critical part of the 12-month scheme, which enables our apprentice to understand how each role operates within the business as a whole.
They work in areas ranging from office admin, credit control, client support and litigation to management, audit, new business and sales, so they really get a feel for the ins and outs of our business. Time spent in the IT department could involve building a laptop, for example, whereas time with the office admin team could mean overseeing the issuing of our monthly client statements, which is a critical aspect of our business.
Whilst our industry is not currently regulated, we believe that it is very important for our apprentice to be trained to the highest standards, in line with the Asset Based Finance Association (ABFA) standards and will be required to complete the ABFA Anti Money Laundering Training and the ABFA Code of Conduct Training. Alongside this, our apprentice will also complete the ABFA foundation course, which not only offers invaluable insight into the industry as a whole, but also gives them a recognized qualification by the end of the programme.
Visit the government's guide to apprenticeships for more guidance and business benefits.