Written by David Garwood, Head of Operations, Riverbank IT Management
I’m a big fan of IT apprentices. My best recruit was an apprentice who went from a shy young man with little confidence to a Helpdesk Manager, and I have no doubt he will head up an IT department someday. Taking on and developing an apprentice is probably the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my working life, and I say that without exaggerating.
Here at Riverbank, we take on apprentices whenever we can as we know how valuable they are to the company. We have taken on numerous apprentices over the years, and (since finishing their apprenticeships) they are now in roles across all levels of support, management and project management within the company.
I could list many reasons why employing an IT apprentice is a great idea, but I’ll limit it to 4 reasons, along with the main reason not to.
So, let’s start with the reason not to:
You think they will provide cheap labour
Let’s get this straight right from the very start. Apprentices are not ‘the cheap option’. They don’t provide cheap labour, regardless of the fact that their (quite honestly offensively low) salary looks good on the books.
Think about it, an apprentice comes to you with minimal technical skills, probably next to no work skills (for example, how to conduct themselves in an office), and are often either painfully shy or ridiculously over confident.
It will take 3 – 6 months before they start adding genuine value in terms of the job you have planned for them. During this initial period they consume huge amounts of time for everyone – mentoring, training and generally being there for them.
Don’t get me wrong, they will add some value from day one, but don’t for one second believe that taking on an apprentice is the easy or low cost route to filling your team. If you think that, you may as well not bother as you will be disappointed.
Right, now that we have got that out of the way, let’s move on to the reasons you should take on an apprentice:
1. They are willing to learn
They went on the apprentice scheme for a reason – they want to follow a career in IT. Almost without exception, they are very keen to learn as much as they can and they will be a sponge for whatever knowledge you can give them.
Take advantage of that and pump as much knowledge as you can into them whilst they have that motivation to learn. They will learn quicker than anyone else in your team and will overtake some of them before you know it.
2. You can mould them to what you need
When you employ people who have a number of years’ experience, they tend to arrive with baggage. Whether that is the way they work, their attitude, or their skills, it probably won’t match exactly what you want.
Your biggest task is to change them to be what you need. It’s often said in relationships that you shouldn’t marry someone hoping to change them to what you want, as it won’t happen. It’s generally the same with staff – at risk of mixing metaphors, the proverbial leopard won’t change its spots. Think of apprentices as a blank canvas, not a tired old painting that you need to slap a load of paint on to cover the previous mess.
3. They bring new ideas
You may think that you’re well up on IT, technology, and everything that goes with it. But are you, really? Apprentices are from the first generation, where technology was already there when they were born – they don’t know anything else.
Technology is just something that has always been there, like electricity and lighting. They communicate differently to the older generations, and they have different expectations of what work should be like.
Whilst you may not understand it, the simple fact is that they are the future, and they know how things work right now. Take advantage of that.
Use their knowledge of current trends and how they think the future will be shaped, and mould your business on that. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you’ve been in the industry for however many years that you know what the future will hold. Nokia made that mistake and look what became of them.
4. They’re loyal
You employ an apprentice. You are their first employer, their first manager. Treat them right, help them develop, and help shape their early career, and you will have an employee who is incredibly loyal to you and your organisation.
You know that staff retention is important (and if you don’t, you should!). What better way to do it that with someone who wants to pay you back for giving them their first opportunity?
So, it’s quite clear there are many good reasons for employing an apprentice and not many reasons for not.
If you do get a good one and are prepared to put in the effort to develop them, you will end up with a loyal, hardworking, and incredibly valuable member of staff who will stay with you for years to come.
David Garwood is Head of Operations at Riverbank IT Management, with over 15 years’ experience in IT Service Delivery – both managed service providers and internal IT departments. His primary focus is on improving the quality of service delivered through the use of well-defined processes, and by developing high quality technical and customer focused teams.