Apprenticeships are becoming an increasingly popular route to go down for people wanting to get into full-time work. Whether this is straight after leaving school as an alternative route to university, or just to build up skills whilst getting the experience of being in a real workplace setting. Apprentices can be of any age and there is a broad range of industries which have apprenticeship programs available to help train the future workforce. In this blog post, we will be sharing insights from the directors of Mercurius IT, Lee Cridland and Jay Tahasildar, as well as from apprentices in the marketing department, Kathryn Monkcom and Alex Skelton – showing how our business has benefited from using apprenticeships.
Insights from the directors of Mercurius IT
Why did you choose to hire apprentices rather than hiring people already fully trained?
LC: If you ask me, the honest answer is, that it gave us an opportunity to see what kinds of skills and capacity we were able to get at a lower cost than we would pay in the open market. This made it easier for us to make the decision as the risk was lower from hiring an apprentice than an already developed professional in the industry. This wasn’t our only reason, but it was definitely one consideration for it.
Another thing we had to think about was the fact we were looking for people in an area, digital marketing, which we knew of but didn’t really understand. Because of this, we found it difficult to know where to find people with expertise. What this meant was that we almost didn’t know what we were looking for, but we had some confidence that going down the apprentice route would give us access to people with these skills and ones that could be developed further using apprentice training methods.
One last consideration was that we were looking for people that were fresh recruits into business and would potentially be able to bring a new view to the table. Hiring an apprentice meant they wouldn’t have any long-term experience of how to do things in our industry. This gave us the opportunity to get new ideas from a different perspective from people who weren’t blinkered from having worked in the industry in the past.
Are you happy with the decision you made to hire apprentices?
LC: I couldn’t be happier. It has exceeded all my expectations. At first, we were prepared that it may not work and my expectation was that we would have to spend a lot of time and effort explaining about our industry, business, customers, etc. On top of this, we believed we would have to spend a lot of time managing and leading our apprentices, but this has not been the case. In our experience, our apprentices have been driven, self-starting, motivated, quick to learn and also, not worried about making mistakes.
Has your perception of apprenticeships changed over time?
LC: I’ve known about apprenticeships all throughout my life and I think they’re a great scheme, however this is when apprenticeships were mostly entirely focused on vocational industries e.g. plumbing, engineering, hairdressing, etc – rather than business-oriented jobs. However, this didn’t give me any negative perceptions when we were looking to hire our first apprentice at Mercurius. I just thought that it would require more support and longer to learn the ropes as they’re young and fresh out of school.
JT: Before hiring our first apprentice, my impression was based on only what I had heard and read in the public domain and, honestly, my expectations weren’t great. However, this perspective has changed dramatically. The entire experience for myself and Mercurius as a business has been extremely successful and fulfilling. I’d say I’m now a big advocate of apprenticeships as a way to recruit and develop the talent necessary to grow a business.
What benefits do you think the business has had from hiring apprentices?
“I think that the value and output that we’ve seen since hiring apprentices and the difference it’s made to our business has meant it’s probably been the best money we’ve ever spent.”
LC: For me personally, digital marketing and social media is something I have no understanding of. I have little interest in or use any social media, excluding LinkedIn but I’d say that’s more of a business tool. For younger people, i.e. our apprentices, they already have some basic skills in this area so what they’ve been able to do through their apprenticeships is develop on these already established skills and learn how to apply them to our business.
I think that the value and output that we’ve seen since hiring apprentices and the difference it’s made to our business has meant it’s probably been the best money we’ve ever spent. The value and change we’ve seen in the organisation because of the ideas, thoughts and things that have been accomplished by our apprentices has been outstanding value for money and it has exceeded my expectation in many ways.
JT: Since taking on our first apprentice in 2016 as the beginning of our in-house marketing functions we had no formal strategy, social media accounts and we were rebranding our business with a new website. Within 6 months of our first apprentice hire, our monthly inbound leads surpassed outbound leads for the first time in our 13 year company history!
Any words to other businesses who haven’t hired an apprentice before but are thinking about it
LC: I would say definitely give it a try. It is likely to work and work well, I think for whatever reason if it doesn’t work, then it isn’t a big business risk. The chance of success outweighs the chance of failure and it isn’t something that should be worried about a lot. I wouldn’t say there’s anything you really need to be careful of, just to ensure that the interviewing process is differently tailored. It’s going to be less about where you have worked and those experiences, but more focused on things such as what the apprentice is like as a person, what they’ve done within school and the skills they acquired and what they’d like to do/avoid in their future career after completing their apprenticeship.
Insights from apprentices at Mercurius IT
Are you happy with the fact you chose to complete an apprenticeship rather than going down the university route?
KM: Yeah definitely. I believe university wasn’t the right path for me and after completing sixth form I was more itching to get straight into the world of work because it’s that idea of I put in the effort and do the work here and then I’m able to see the results straight away. Compared that to at school where I was putting all this effort into work and essays and that would just get marked and handed back but it doesn’t really mean anything after that. I knew eventually if I was to go to university I’d complete it and graduate, then I’d have to start my career from the bottom anyways. So, I just saw it as why am I waiting three years and spending all this money to just start at essentially the same place as I could just start now, whilst also getting the education part at the same time. At the time when I started at Mercurius, I didn’t know that degree apprenticeships were a thing and perhaps that was a sacrifice I was making, meaning I wouldn’t be able to get to the same level academically. However, as it turns out, degree apprenticeships are now available, so I haven’t really had to lose out anything.
AS: I’m happy that I went down the apprenticeship route. I’d just come out of being in education for the majority of my life so far and knew I wanted to move away from that and start working full time. Being able to find an apprenticeship which allows me to learn about the industry and gain skills & knowledge whilst also being employed full time was the best of both worlds really.
What skills have you gained from completing an apprenticeship?
“Now because the training I’ve gotten through my apprenticeships I’ve got a much more structured approach of theoretical knowledge and know how that applies to business.”
KM: One of the main reasons I went into the marketing side of things is because I had been writing blogs and designing websites since I was around 14 but that was all self-taught and it was mostly very simple things in which I’d copy and paste the code without actually knowing what it meant. Now because the training I’ve gotten through my apprenticeships I’ve got a much more structured approach of theoretical knowledge and know how that applies to business. Understanding why we follow certain processes, knowing the effects of it, how it affects business outcomes & goals and how can it make money for people essentially.
AS: I did have an underlying interest in marketing but no actual knowledge or skills in it. Going down the apprenticeship route has helped me develop skills in multiple areas of digital marketing and once I’ve completed it I’ll receive an industry recognized qualification. I’ve been able to understand businesses more and the processes involved within them, as well as seeing first hand that I can make a difference to the business through the work I produce. Apprenticeships also help you in developing other skills not just related to your course, for me personally since beginning my apprenticeship my skills in areas such as communications, organisation and confidence have increased significantly.
What benefits do you feel you’ve brought Mercurius IT since joining as an apprentice?
KM: I’ve now seen both sides now from being hired as the first apprentice and now managing Alex. I think when jay hired me it was a gamble really because larger businesses were starting to see that marketing was this core function and were beginning to hire people and put a lot of money behind it. Whereas for smaller businesses it was still not really seen as such an important function. If they had gone in and hired someone within marketing who had loads of experience, then perhaps it would’ve been easier. However, I think by making it lower cost and have us essentially learn together it was much less of a gamble financially. If hiring an apprentice hadn’t been an option then I don’t think Mercurius would’ve hired anyone at all because it would’ve been too high of a risk. Now that we’ve been hiring more apprentices who don’t really have any long-term business experience and ingrained processes which they’ve been using for years and years means we can sort of experiment with new things and try out innovative business processes.
Would you recommend going for an apprenticeship?
KM: I would definitely recommend it. I always say when I’m speaking to people at schools about apprenticeships is that it’s not for everyone, but it should be an equal option to anything else. For example when you’re searching for the university and courses you’re interested in, you should also take apprenticeships into consideration and have a look at what’s out there. It just makes perfect sense to me. There is the case that some professions, such as becoming a doctor means you still have to get a degree, but apprenticeship courses are branching out and expanding a lot more and there is a huge range of what you can do and learn through an apprenticeship scheme now. Linking it back to business-related jobs, I’d say nowadays the practical experience you get from being in an actual workplace almost is more valuable in the industry than your qualification.
AS: If you’re keen to get into a workplace and want to gain experience whilst also developing your skills I would say definitely go for an apprenticeship. From my experience, they aren’t really talked about a lot during school/college and there is a lot of pressure for young people to go to university nowadays, but apprenticeships are a great alternative which can provide you real-world experience that university wouldn’t. Just have a look and see what’s available for the industry you’re interested in before committing yourself to just one option.
We hope this blog post has shed some insight into our experiences at Mercurius IT about apprenticeships and how we’ve used them to recruit the talent we need to grow as a business. If your business is thinking about hiring an apprentice, have a look around and see the courses that are available and see if any fit your business. We’ve had the pleasure of training our apprentices in marketing and sales from Baltic Training and Learning Curve.