Top tips for managers on how to recruit an apprentice technician

Thanks to an apprenticeship, Alan’s helping people with lifelong medical conditions. (Credit: Technicians Make it Happen)

Apprentices at universities are a valued addition to existing technical teams, and enhance skills to meet existing and future skills gaps. On successful completion of an apprenticeship, the apprentice will have gained invaluable skills and qualifications, and most importantly on the job experience.

The University of Exeter Apprenticeship strategy will boost workforce capability, through “growing our own” talent from a variety of entry routes, and enhancing skills of our existing staff, to meet our existing and future skills gaps. As we are a registered training provider, there will also be opportunities through delivering of our own apprenticeship courses.

Apprenticeships at entry-level, higher, and degree level will be open to new and existing staff as an opportunity to learn new skills, enhance existing skills, or retrain to follow a new career direction.

The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy on 6 Apr 2017 gives universities the opportunity to tap into a digital account to pay for the apprentices training through a registered training provider.

Technical line managers and hiring managers can use the following points to help them embed apprentices into their service.

Role identification

Apprenticeships need to be embedded within an institutions workforce planning. This will ensure that they have the ability to develop their careers.

There are a number of ways you could develop apprenticeship roles in your staffing plan:

  1. Assess whether planned roles, already in business plans, could be offered as
  2. When starting the recruitment process, consider whether the role you are looking to recruit could be filled by an
  3. Offering current staff enhanced opportunities to retrain and upskill by targeting apprenticeships at key capability

Type and level of apprenticeship

The apprenticeship should be aligned to the type of employment/role that you are looking to fill. If there is a business need for a Laboratory Technician then you should be looking at a Laboratory Technician/Scientist apprenticeship, or if you are looking for a mechanical engineer then you should recruit an apprentice on a Mechanical Engineering Apprenticeship. There is a really useful A-Z of apprenticeships and a find apprenticeship training guide on the government website that can help you find the right training.

You will need to decide on the most suitable level for the apprenticeship – this should broadly align with the role and the responsibilities you need the apprentice to have. These could be school leavers with GCSEs, College leavers with A-Levels in the relevant subject areas, or even graduates.

Find the training provider who can deliver the apprenticeship

There are a number of training providers that may be able to deliver the training, qualifications and assessments to your new apprentice. A list of approved training providers has been published to help you decide on the right one.

Apprenticeship training lasts between 1-5 years depending on the type and level of training –training is typically 12-24 months.

Agree the salary for the role

This will vary between institutions and organisations, however, it is my belief that apprentices should be paid a fair wage aligned with the job they are doing. All apprentices must be paid at least the government minimum wage. This is currently £3.50 per hour for an apprentice, and this rises to meet the minimum wage for the specific age group.

Advertise the apprenticeship

All new apprenticeship roles should be raised through your recruitment system as you would for any new staff member.

Apprentice vacancy templates differ from normal institutional format as they are written to enable them to be advertised through the Government’s “get in go far” website. They can also be advertised through your training provider and your organisations website.

The job description needs to be written in plain English and any abbreviations should be written out in full so that people outside our organization are able to understand the role we are advertising.

You should also try to avoid or reduce any university/ business jargon. The job description should enable the applicant to understand what the role is and what you will be requiring them to do.

Interviews and selection process

Some training providers can shortlist candidates and conduct an initial assessment for you. This could help ensure that all apprenticeship candidates meet the training provider’s eligibility criteria, and gives you a choice of high quality candidates. Your organisation would then conduct interviews for the candidates that make it through the initial testing.

The hired apprentice must sign an apprenticeship agreement and commitment statement as part of a formal contract. This will detail the duration of the apprenticeship, the training, working conditions and the qualifications they are working towards.

Employment start and inductions

An effective induction process is essential for all new members of staff, and this is no different for an apprentice as they are an employee first and foremost.

Your inductions should assist the apprentice to perform effectively in their job role and within their work environment as soon as possible.

It is very import to ensure that a thorough local induction is carried out for the apprentice in their work area. This must also include health and safety information and guidance specific to their work.

You should issue them with any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) before they start working on anything that requires its use.

Mentoring and support

The apprentice’s line manager, or a nominated colleague, should be assigned to mentor/buddy the apprentice. The mentor is there to offer support and to use their knowledge, skills and connections to help the apprentice in their new role and help them develop.

Mentors should help the apprentice become more self-aware and allow them to take responsibility for solving their own problems.

Mentors may require some training around coaching and mentoring to help them in their role.

Apprentices will generally be supported by skills assessors/tutors from training providers who will visit the apprentice on site and provide support during their time with them on off-the-job training.

Some advice on how to make your apprenticeship working relationship work

  1. Ensure the apprentice has a mentor, this will help the apprentice to settle into their new surroundings and will enable them to quickly pick up what to do.
  2. Set expectations discussing University organisational values and workplace etiquette. It is important to set your expectations from the very start of their employment e.g.:
    • When they can/cannot use their personal phone at
    • Being punctual and ready to start work on time (not walking through the door at their start time still wearing their coat ). Do not be late, but if you know you might be call ahead.
    • Ensure they are dressed appropriately for the work they are doing
    • No eating in workshops or labs, and encourage them to take their lunch break away from their workplace
    • Keep the workplace clean and tidy – and tidy up after themselves
    • Be polite, respectful and professional
    • Never walk past a mistake – report it
    • Remind apprentices to always do their best, someone is watching
    • Apprentices should champion Apprenticeships
  3. Schedule regular 1:1 meetings/catch-ups to review progress and development of the apprentice in their work and with their
  4. Include apprentices in team tasks, activities and meeting s to help them feel part of your
  5. Set their PDR objectives and targets at the Do not forget to make them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound (SMART).
  6. Encourage the apprentice to use their new and existing skills to contribute directly to your business
  7. Keep apprentices motivated and interested by challenging them with new tasks to consolidate their skills
  8. Say thank you often and use the employer recognition schemes if you have one – give praise where praise is
  9. Support their apprenticeship You may be able to give them work that they can use towards projects or evidence for their skills assessor.
  10. Ensure that they are supported by ensuring the apprentice has 20% of their time for off-the-job training.
  11. Encourage them to join a professional body as early as possible to start them on their CPD journey and work towards professional
  12. Regularly communicate with the apprentice and their training provider to check they are on track and address any issues/concerns that they may
  13. Know when the apprentice has their college/training day, and get involved with visits from their skills assessor/tutor.

Jonathan CresswellJonathan Cresswell FIScT, Head of Apprenticeships, University of Exeter.
Jonathan served for 17 years as a Royal Marines Commando electronics specialist, before spending a further 2 years as a commissioned logistics officer in the Royal Navy. In 2012 he joined the University of Exeter where he managed capital infrastructure projects, led technical services teams and worked on the technical services transformation project. Technical Services was formed on 1st July 2015 and Jonathan took on the role of Deputy Head of Technical Services. Jonathan champions professional registration through the Science Council, and the Institute of Science and Technology, and worked with HEaTED to embed the CATTS framework for Exeter’s technical staff. Jonathan is now leading the University strategy for apprenticeships.