How do you run a business and train an apprentice without reducing your output or compromising your profitability?
Think back to when you were a building apprentice. Would you be where you are today if someone hadn’t given you a chance? Were you teachable? Did you learn fast? Did you make the most of the opportunities you were given?
It’s highly likely there are young people just like you were, waiting to be given the opportunity. So…give it a go! But before you take on an apprentice, consider the following.
Take a long-term view
Apprentices will never bring you immediate income. It’s likely the opposite will be true, they’ll cost you.
Sure some builders might be tempted to use apprentices as cheap labour for as long as possible to reduce costs, but doing so is actually counter-productive. It simply lengthens the time it takes for them to get up to speed and takes longer for them to be of value to your company.
And in reality, the right kind of apprentice won’t want to spend their days doing menial tasks: cleaning up, fetching and carrying. They’ll want to get on to real building as soon as possible.
The right kind will likely be ambitious and will want to learn fast. So it’s a good idea to look for this kind of person when employing an apprentice – employ for attitude, train for skill.
Training apprentices may be more challenging, and even cost more initially, but they will be of much more value to you in the long-term.
So from the very beginning, invest in training your apprentices on real building skills. Don’t see them as a source of cheap labour, look to their longer-term
Teach your team to train
Just because a builder is trade qualified doesn’t mean he is competent to train an apprentice. Some are just naturals, but others find it difficult.
Training and mentoring is a skill that requires practice. So before you race out and hire an apprentice, talk it over with your builders. Find out where they feel competent and where they feel inadequate. Then make resources available and give them time so they can handle your apprentices well.
If you have several apprentices, hold some special training meetings with the builders primarily responsible and discuss common experiences. Invite training organisations to send reps to field questions and make suggestions.
And be aware that many apprentices coming straight from school are adapting to life in the adult world and will find it difficult adjusting to life on a building site. So older builders, who are parents themselves, may be better suited to mentoring apprentices straight from school.
Don’t underestimate career-changing adults
Some of the best apprentices are career-changing adults. The current shortage of builders and the attractions of good pay rates have no doubt made the switch attractive. Adult apprentices have already adapted to working life, can train faster, and are often able to take responsibility for their own and others’ work.
Some will bring with them additional skills – non-building skills that can enrich the company. For example they may have managed teams or organised events, worked in some social environment or managed contracts. Find ways to enable them to utilise these additional skills and you will be benefitting the company. You are paying them more, so make the most of their experience. It may be that you find your next project manager in such a person.
So don’t treat them like a school leaver, just because they are starting at the bottom of the building ladder.
When hiring apprentices, ensure you create an environment that gets them working effectively sooner rather than later. When you put effort into the early stages, they learn the basic skills more quickly. This will give you a better return during their apprenticeship. Then, should they leave at the end of their apprenticeship, you’ve still gained value for your effort.
Have you had a good experience hiring an apprentice? Would love to hear your thoughts.