On 27th February, WhiteHat and The Recruitment Events Company co-hosted a breakfast event to debunk some of the most common myths around apprenticeships and offer practical tips for implementing a successful apprenticeship programme. Joined by over 40 representatives from HR, talent and management, the room was filled with delegates looking to make sense of apprenticeships and resolve how to add the most value to their organisations.

The WhiteHat office was buzzing with HR, talent and management representatives from companies including Just-Eat, Deloitte, Audible, The White Company and Nando’s, joining the WhiteHat team to  gather advice on how to go about setting up an apprenticeship programme. Of the 40+ people in the room, the majority were levy paying employers and yet only a few had existing apprenticeship programmes. All were enthusiastic however about learning how they could drive change and bring diverse pipelines of talent into their organisations.

Sam Berthoud, Managing Director at The Recruitment Events Company, kicked off the morning by highlighting some of the misconceptions, challenges and barriers around apprenticeships. He reflected that parents and education providers are often the biggest barriers to changing apprenticeship perceptions but they also have the greatest influence over the decisions of young people and the direction they choose to pursue after school. He argued that more needs to be done to reach those audiences and to educate them on the amazing opportunity apprenticeships present today to enable people to access the very best careers. ‘Apprenticeships need to rebrand,’ he said, landing on the key issue facing the perception of apprenticeships.

Sophie Adelman, co-founder of WhiteHat, chaired the panel and was joined by Euan Blair, co-founder and CEO, WhiteHat, Alastair Higginbottom, employee engagement Manager, and Uzma Ahmedmunir, a WhiteHat apprentice, both at Salesforce.org.

Uzma is Alastair’s third apprentice, but his first WhiteHat apprentice. He talked about his experience and how it’s been a lot more positive this time round, touching upon why he believes this is the case. ‘Originally we were looking for mini-mes. We were looking for talent that would replicate, not compliment, the skills we had in the office.’ He talked about how they redefined the characteristics they were looking for and changed their recruitment strategy. Alastair also highlighted what they did to change perceptions internally about what an apprentice was; for example, he was insistent that Uzma was not known simply as ‘an apprentice’ because it was important for her to be seen as proper member of the team. Euan summed this up, ‘when you bring an apprentice on board, they should be treated as a full time employee. By embedding an apprentice fully into the company, you make the apprenticeship more valuable for both parties.’

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The panel went on to talk about diversity of thought and the comparison between apprentices and graduates. Apprentices have gone through a different journey and there isn’t the same weight of expectation, particularly when it comes to the sense of entitlement you can get from some graduates. Apprentices appreciate the investment being made in them by their employer and, as a result, are generally more loyal. WhiteHat measures the apprentice against key criteria, including resilience, conscientiousness and grit,as key indicators of success in the workplace.

It was evident that Uzma appreciates the investment being made in her, and that the relationship between her and Alastair is one of trust and respect. Alastair joked that he had been forced into joining the panel as, when encouraging Uzma to take part, she had said she would only do it if he did. Alastair is very supportive of Uzma and wants to see her grow as a person and as an employee. ‘The point here’, as Sophie wrapped up, ‘is that Alastair, as her line manager, is held accountable for the success of the apprenticeship. At WhiteHat, we make sure line managers know what is expected of them by holding webinars and roundtables, ensuring they have a platform to ask questions or raise any concerns with our team.’

Alistair talked about George, Uzma’s WhiteHat coach, and the guidance he has provided to deliver success. They both spoke very highly of George with Uzma telling the audience how he pushes her to come up with the solution, instead of giving her the answer, and challenges biases and ways of thinking. ‘Our coaches are ex-industry and experts in their field, who have chosen to turn their hand to teaching,’ said Euan. ‘This means they can add real value as they can easily relate the principles covered to real-world situations in the apprentices’ working lives.’

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Turning the discussion to what the apprenticeship involves, Sophie talked to the point of the 20% off the job training. It’s a misnomer that this requires the apprentice to spend a day out of the office each week, as much of the 20% can be fulfilled in their working day whether this is through work shadowing or learning something outside of their role. ‘Knowing that someone will be there for 5 days a week, even if their time will be taken up for several hours, is so much better,’ Alastair enthused. ‘It pushes Uzma to manage her time and be more of a grown up, giving her the opportunity within the company to grow her skills.’ ‘We’ve designed our own online platform Appli.ed to help boost visibility of off the job training for employers,’ added Euan. ‘All off the job training gets logged in the platform and can be seen by both apprentice and line manager.’

To wrap up the panel session, Sophie directed conversation towards the levy and what makes an apprenticeship programme successful.

‘An apprenticeship programme is rarely going to work if it’s one individual within the company setting it up to hit diversity targets or to spend their Levy,’ responded Euan. ‘A large part of making sure the programme is successful is stakeholder buy in, that and having an internal sponsor in the executive team to support.’

The importance of finding the right fit, for the team/organisation and the apprentice, was highlighted as a key factor for success. This feeds into ensuring that the business knows what they want and what the role is before looking for an apprentice. ‘There are a variety of different roles that an apprentice can do so it’s important to know what it is you are looking for. Apprenticeships are a pathway into the business and can be used to develop a broad foundation which can then be layered with experience and learning new skills.’

Organisations looking to find out more about WhiteHat or how to launch an apprenticeship programme can call 020 3884 1067 to speak to the sales team, or email sales@whitehat.org.uk.