The value of apprentices

by Steve Nash
13 Nov 2017
The value of apprentices

I have been struck recently by the sheer number of headlines in the trade press stating that one large organisation or another is on a recruitment drive for vehicle technicians. The numbers are always in the hundreds; in one case a thousand.

It must be pretty obvious that the only way that these numbers are going to be fulfilled is by tempting existing technicians away from their current employers – unless those recruiting have discovered a rich, untapped seam of talent hitherto unknown to the rest of us, which I think is highly unlikely.

The net result is that, rather like a Chinese puzzle, the gaps simply move from one employer to another. At the same time, the cost to employ rises for everyone which in the long term is unsustainable.

The frustrating thing is that this is not by any means a new problem. I was involved in setting up a manufacturer’s apprentice scheme some 30 years ago to address the shortage of skilled technicians and that remains one of the many excellent schemes existing across the industry today. Yet the skills shortage persists. We can only conclude that, despite the efforts of those engaged in recruiting and training apprentices across the industry, not enough has been done to train the numbers required or to predict future demand.

Of course the talent pool is subject to attrition; we know that a number of other industries see skilled vehicle technicians as a resource well worth mining – and some industries can offer rewards that we simply can’t match. However this isn’t a new phenomenon, and sufficient fresh talent coming into the pipeline can mitigate against it.

Some years ago the IMI undertook a hugely detailed Return-On-Investment (ROI) study around apprentices which exploded a lot of commonly held myths. In short, it showed that a well recruited apprentice would generate a return of up to 300% within the typical three year training period! This was based on real employer data and presented in the form of our extremely easy to use ROI calculator which is maintained using current data and is accessible via our website: theimi.org.uk/graph. Take a look if you haven’t already done so.

Since the apprentice levy was introduced earlier this year, every contributing employer should be looking to maximise their return by employing apprentices. And even if you use all of your available levy pot, the government will contribute 90% towards the cost of training any additional apprentices – just as it does for non-levy payers.

So, whilst a significant increase in the recruitment of apprentices may not answer the immediate demands of employers looking for technicians, it does provide a solution for the future. Furthermore, our detailed ROI study proves that these young trainees become productive much sooner than many had previously thought and – worst case scenario – if they were to leave you after being trained, you will already have seen a very positive return for your investment.

With these facts in mind, it would be good to think that all those large employers who are currently seeking technicians might seek to over-recruit and train apprentices (as some already do) knowing that they are a sound investment and will help to address the seemingly endless shortage of talent that has afflicted our industry for as long as I can remember.

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