Can my business really benefit from an apprentice?
The simple answer is yes, but only if you are prepared to invest a little time and effort into getting and keeping the right ones. Many employers are cynical, and this cynicism is often based on their experiences: “The guy was lazy, didn’t want to learn”; “I spent all this time developing them, and they left”; “Why should I spend all this money training staff for someone else to benefit?”
I have heard all of these and more, and it may explain why there are now so few trainees and apprentices in our businesses today, despite the Government’s efforts to encourage more school leavers into this pathway.
I hold a different view and this is based on my own experiences. True, in my time I have shared all of the above complaints, but, more often than not, I have trained people that have become key employees and stayed with me for many years. Moreover, employing trainees and apprentices makes good economic sense since their cost of employment is low and their potential return high.
But to get the best from your trainees and apprentices, you must follow a few simple steps.
Don’t take what’s given, go and find the best ones. Talk to schools and find students keen on learning your business. Get close to the Heads as they will often know the best suited to the trade. Take them on a work experience placement and if possible, give them holiday work and even Saturday mornings if it suits. You will soon find the ones with the good work ethic.
Speak with their parents. Involve them and gain their commitment towards their child’s development. Their support is beneficial if the correct attitude and motivation is to be maintained.
Have a training plan. If you make it up as you go along, the trainee ends up a spare pair of hands, doing odd errands and unskilled jobs and in everyone’s way. They will inevitably undertake mundane tasks, but explain to them the significance and importance and ensure that the plan is adhered to.
Finally, give them feedback. Ask them to summarise what they have done, what they have learned and give them feedback on what they have done well, what needs to be improved and what new development tasks they now have. This can be done informally in a short meeting or, during a proper appraisal.
Treat them like a valued employee, and they will likely become one.
Why should I bother with appraisals?
Some say waste of time, some undertake them just to comply with policy but get little from them, while some gain a massive benefit from them.
Of course you should be constantly talking and listening to what your team members tell you, but an appraisal is different. This activity is for the benefit if both of you ask:
- What is this person employed to do?
- How effectively are they doing it?
- How can they improve their performance?
- What are they capable of developing into?
If your appraisals do not ask these questions, you aren’t maximising their use. Don’t ever use an appraisal to discipline staff, tell them if
their job or responsibilities are changing, or talk about yourself or the company.
All of this activity should be done away from appraisals since an appraisal is all about the staff member, their role and nothing else. Done properly they will be motivational and provide a clear focus for the employee and your relationship with him or her.
Take time to research the best appraisal methods. There is plenty of information out there on the best methods but simply put, these are the essentials:
- Prepare. Give the employee a checklist of things to consider and allow them to prepare.
- Review. Look back over the employees past performance. What have they done well, what needs to get better?
- Structure. Decide what you are going to say and how you will say it. Ensure that you find positive things to say or, positive actions the employee can take to improve.
- Listen. Let the employee speak. Let them say whatever they want. It is their appraisal. Ask what you can do to help with their issues to make them more effective in their job.
- Summarise. Have a checklist of action points which are agreed and summarised between you both.
- Follow through. Don’t just let it fizzle out. Whatever are your action points, follow through and make them happen.
- Finally, do not exclude anyone. Every employee deserves this opportunity. No one is too senior nor too unimportant.
If you have a question for John, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com