How to manage apprentices in the manufacturing sector

The global economic recession took it toll on manufacturing around the world. Reduced spending created a domino effect of reduced demand and subsequent employee cut backs, but the good news is the economy is picking up sufficiently that employers in all sectors are seeking to hire more staff.

However, the recession has not only changed the thinking of corporations and employers, but also that of school leavers. With university degrees costing money, and the very real prospect of unemployment upon graduation, many students have opted instead to enroll in vocational courses or embark on apprenticeships.  

A report published in July from Sandler Training, a business consultancy service, used data from a survey of over 1000 SMEs. It found that academic qualifications are “losing out to practical skills,” which, the report claimed, “can deliver more tangible effects on a business.” The companies surveyed said that they expected to be increasing their apprenticeship hiring by 20 percent within five years’ time but boosting graduate recruitment by only 7 percent.

And this trend is particularly prevalent in the engineering and manufacturing sectors, where the number of people completing ACT (the largest training provider in Wales, U.K.) apprenticeships has risen by over 38 percent. Andrew Cooksley, managing director of ACT suggests that employers looking for ‘hard skills’ over ‘pure’ academic qualifications might drive the trend.

So there seems to be a very real shift towards on-the-job training, which means the way site managers recruit and manage employees, is also changing.

Top tips for managing apprentices for mutual gain

Set expectations.

Whenever you bring a new employee onboard, its important you set clear goals and expectations. Outline the key skills you expect your apprentice to gain throughout the program, identify the work he or she will need to complete and the hours required for success. Will your apprentice need to obtain any formal qualifications while on the programme? Do they need to record their own progress? All these questions need to be answered on day one.

Create a detailed plan.

Before you employ any apprentices, you need to create a detailed training manual outlining each individual step of the course. This manual will be extremely valuable for the apprentice. Not only can he monitor his progress, but also reference critical information. Think of this manual as a course textbook. It should include educational materials, development markers and practical instruction.

Monitor performance.

Once you have developed the detail behind your apprentices’ learning journey you may find it helpful to identify how you will manage quality at each stage. For example, how will you know that the initial assessment process is working effectively and delivering the right outcomes for individual apprentices?

The following ideas can be used to build a plan to monitor and improve the quality of each stage of the apprenticeship journey and also the programme as a whole.

  • Establish clear processes for each stage or element of the learning journey.
  • Identify key performance indicators.
  • Decide how you will gather and analyse feedback from individual apprentices, managers and other people involved in the apprenticeship.
  • Determine when and how assessors will share their experiences.
  • Develop processes to spot check or ‘sample’ apprenticeship documentation.
  • Decide how often training delivery will be observed.
  • Determine how you will check agreed processes are being followed.
  • Review the Common Inspection Framework and think about how you could meet the standards described.
  • Create an overall quality plan for your apprenticeship programme.
  • Identify who will lead the implementation and future development of the plan.

A training provider may deliver some elements of the plan on your behalf but it is important that you maintain overall ownership. Managing quality is about ensuring that apprenticeships deliver for your employees and the business so you may also choose other, internal measures to ensure this is the case.

Assign mentors.

A great way to fast-track learning and monitor the progress of individual apprentices is to assign buddies with a wealth of experience in the relevant area of expertise. This engagement will help the apprentice see how each task should be done safely, efficiently and to a high standard. It also acts as a benchmark for the apprentice’s own development.

From a business development point of view, giving existing employees the responsibility of training new recruits is good for employee morale and could also help executive management identify potential leaders in the business.  

Offer full time employment.

Finally, when all is said and done, ensure your apprentice scheme offers successful trainees the opportunity for full time employment – it may even be worth making 12 months employment compulsory - considering on average, training an apprentice will cost the business in the region of £20,000 (USD$32,000) so don’t spend the money only to hand well-trained recruits to competitors.  

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