Graham Stoakes on how to get a good apprentice

Industry author, lecturer and GW columnist reveals the answers to your apprenticeship questions

Graham Stoakes on how to get a good apprentice
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Graham Stoakes: Industry author, lecturer and GW columnist.

Some may know me from my automotive textbooks, however, when I meet people from the trade and introduce myself, many are often surprised to find out that I’m a full-time automotive lecturer at Chichester College.

The introduction is normally followed by the question, “how do I get a good apprentice?”

The general perception seems that employing a trainee to enhance your business is not as easy as it used to be; good apprentices can still be found, however it relies on a careful selection process.

The world has changed since many of us went through the apprenticeship process, and the advancement in technology means that millennials are a different breed with contradicting priorities, especially when it comes to learning or developing new skills.

Access to instant information, means that they not only feel they don’t have to retain knowledge, as it’s literally at their fingertips, but they are often glued to some sort of mobile device which seems to take up their entire attention.

What this means is that we need a different approach to recruitment, selection and training.

Graham Stoakes

With a long history working in an independent garage, Graham now teaches motor vehicle technology at Chichester College.

He’s a renowned author too, with ten books and three CD ROMS to his name so far, covering a range of vehicle technology topics from levels one to four.

To find out more about Graham Stoakes and his automotive books, visit his website.

Work ethic

With regard to recruitment and selection, a potential employer will need to assess the candidate’s motivation.

This can be difficult, but if it can be ascertained what is driving the individual and what their aspirations are, it can often give an indication of how committed the profession they will be.

It may be worthwhile offering a trial period and setting the candidate tasks which are both engaging and mundane, to see how they handle a range of situations.

An important thing to remember is that a potential apprentice does not come ‘fully-loaded’ with the knowledge and skills that many of us seem to recall having when we started.

Our years of experience may cloud our judgement of what a candidate is actually capable of.

Everyday learning

I for one, am still learning every day, but also cannot say when I crossed the invisible line from novice to competent, and I’m sure that I needed a lot of hand holding along the way.

Although you are trying to operate a successful business, you must remember that initially your apprentice may not make you any money, and you should see their training as an investment.

I often hear, “What if I put in all the effort and investment in their training, and at the end they leave?”

Richard Branson is credited with saying “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to”.

During their training, it is worthwhile considering what subjects they will be learning at college.

Put their skills and knowledge into practice

The academic year will be broken down into different subject areas, and if you know when these are happening, it may make it easier for you to help them put the skills and knowledge into practice.

Liaise with the college or training provider, as they will often have a scheme of work which lays out the subject order and may help you understand why there are particular gaps in their knowledge.

Some colleges’ apprenticeship training, operates as a rolling programme where candidates can enrol at any time of the year, and they slot into a class which may already be up and running.

This means that there could be some fundamental gaps in their knowledge which may require support from their employer.

New apprenticeship standards involve ongoing training, and when the employer, candidate and training provider feel that they are capable, a gateway will be reached which leads to end point assessment (EPA) by an independent assessment organisation.

This approach is very similar to the old methods of exams and final skills test, which led to the National Craftsman’s Certificate.

It does, however, place a lot of emphasis on passing a final set of tasks in order to achieve an apprenticeship.

This can lead to a large amount of pressure on the candidate and the prospect of potential failure.

This needs to be taken into consideration, and support allowances made.

If careful attention is given to the way an apprentice is selected and trained, your business should be in a position to reap any rewards, and ‘future-proof’ yourselves from an expanding skills shortage.

What you need to consider

  • What is the candidate’s motivation/drive?

This can sometimes be determined during interview with the use of careful questioning. Remember to try and use open questions (i.e. those without a simple yes/no answer) as this will give you the opportunity to gain a better insight into their motivation.

  • Does the candidate have a good work ethic?

This can sometimes be gauged by offering a work trial. It not only gives you the chance to assess their attendance, timekeeping and behaviour, but also their approach to the mundane tasks that are often required in a realistic working environment.

  • What will they be doing at college?

Liaise with the college or training provider what they will be learning and when. Above all, remember that their college tutor can teach them, however he cannot make them learn.
If a potential candidate has already been studying mechanics at college on a full-time vocationally related qualification (VRQ), their practical skills are likely to be limited at first, as all of their training will have involved short simulated tasks.

  • What will an apprentice cost, and is there any financial support?

Colleges and training providers will have staff that are specially trained in information advice and guidance. They will be happy to discuss costs and help find support where available.

  • What is the best time of year to employ an apprentice?

Anytime, but remember that if they enrol in a rolling programme with a college or training provider, the subject order may not follow a logical pattern (i.e. start at the beginning and finish at the end). With many colleges, the academic year starts in September, so work experience over the summer to help the employer see their work ethic and then starting college in September might be a logical approach.

Good luck employing an apprentice who will be an asset to your business.

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