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Case study: How to be a better manager of apprenctices

Editorial
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Based on reports from the National Centre of Vocational Education Research over many years, it has become clear with some exceptions, a number of business factors appear to influence the outcome of apprenticeships. 

Those employers that have been in business for 10 or more years are far more likely to retain their apprentices and get them through to completion. Those employers who have been in business for less than five years are more likely to achieve low retention rates.

Why?

Experience as a boss with apprentices matters.

The reality is that the more experience they have had and the more positive it has been, the more likely they are to keep getting good results. They learn from their mistakes and listen to advice.

But whereas over 95% of interviewed employers rate themselves as a good boss; unfortunately apprentices don’t agree – less than 75% say they have a good boss and in some groups this is as low as 49%.

Current apprentices don’t respond well to employers who say ‘I learned that way so that’s how you’ll learn’. In some cases, it seems to lead to bad work practices and it doesn’t fit with GenY notions of contemporary employment.

However, personal experience as an apprentice – the boss who started out as an apprentice himself – can be both a positive and negative influence. Some of those who trained as an apprentice retain the lowest number of apprentices; in fact those employers who report low retention rates with apprentices are most likely to say that’s how they got their start and to think of themselves as a good boss.

Attitude as a boss also matters.

The attitude of the employer can greatly contribute to the cause of apprentices not completing. GenY apprentices are quick to pick up the clues from their employers; they feel that they are already sacrificing wages in exchange for training and respond negatively to employers who harp on about profitability and costly mistakes.

The time you spend mentoring matters.

80% of apprentice bosses not only run the business but also look after the apprentice’s pay and conditions. That puts enormous time pressures on employers who want to help their apprentice complete their qualification, but who feel they just can’t find the time to mentor.

That can put an apprentice in a difficult position if they want to talk to someone about a work problem, a pay rise or their working conditions.

However, the employers with good retention rates, even if they are in small businesses, tend to have someone looking after or helping out with HR matters.

Successful employers also take the apprenticeship relationship seriously and make sure that they are doing what they are supposed to do for the apprentice; they stick to the deal in practice as well as on paper.

GenY doesn’t respond well to an old fashioned, authoritarian boss or hierarchical workplaces; most want a mentor, someone who will be interested in them rather than bark out orders, someone they can talk to, someone who treats them fairly. Not surprisingly, those employers who have a positive attitude to their apprentices, who appear to like and value them and are willing to listen to them, get the best results. Interestingly, some of the most traditional and authoritarian employers also get good results some of the time – their ability to retain an apprentice through to completion appears to be related to the match in personality and work style between the two; some young people are more able or willing to work with a tough boss than others. But research suggests that they are a minority.

Learning from other employers matters.

The larger businesses, with the best track records, are most likely to say that they have been influenced by their industry body; whereas our research indicates low retention rate employers don’t take advice from anyone.

The more successful employers have also established some guidelines for recruiting workers and apprentices and most importantly, take input or advice from others – partner, colleague, industry association – about recruiting, employing and managing apprentices.

Matching the apprentice to the trade matters.

Not only are one in three apprentices likely to leave their apprenticeship in the first year, of the 55% that complete, some leave the trade immediately after they qualify. That means you’ve just wasted four years in getting them up to speed. Why did that happen?

Feedback from MEGT’s apprentices is that they were dedicated to finishing and had a good work attitude. But they never did like that particular trade. Carrying out some type of testing to see if the job seeker is right for your trade, is clearly well worth doing.

Retention and completion

 

Low:                 12% of the employers sampled achieved a 0 to 49% retention rate; less                              than half of the apprentices who started with them in last five years,                                    stayed to complete their apprenticeship

Medium:           21% of the employers samples achieved a retention rate between 50% to                              69%

High:                30% of the employers sampled achieve a 70% to 89% retention rate

Highest:           37% of the employers sampled achieved a 90% or more retention rate.

Source: NSW Board of Vocational Education and Training A Fair Deal November 2011

Colin McCabe is the general manager for MEGT Recruitment and Management Services

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