Why some businesses do well with their apprentices, but others find it so hard

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Last updated on May 4, 2017

Colin McCabe general manager MEGT Recruitment and Management Services Colin McCabe, general manager of MEGT Recruitment and Management Services has given us an insight into a perennial question – how to train and retain apprentices while keeping them motivated and happy?

Colin McCabe general manager of MEGT Recruitment and Management Services  

What are the successful businesses doing that others are not?

Based on reports from the National Centre of Vocational Education Research over many years, it's become clear that a number of business factors influence the outcome of apprenticeships.

Learning from your mistakes and the experience of others does matter. Bosses that learn from their mistakes and listen to advice improve the productivity of their apprentices.

Those that believe 'it was good enough for me' generally think of themselves as good bosses, but tend to have a higher turnover of apprentices. The research indicates that low retention rate employers don't take advice from anyone.

Over 95 per cent of interviewed employers rated themselves as a good boss, unfortunately apprentices didn't agree. Less than 75 per cent said they have a good boss and in some groups it fell as low as 49 per cent.

Attitude as a boss matters. Generation Y (GenY) puts great store in leadership and personal development. GenY apprentices feel they are already sacrificing wages in exchange for training and respond negatively to employers who bang on about profitability and costly mistakes.

The time you spend mentoring matters. Eighty per cent of employers are flat out looking after their businesses. Most sincerely want to help apprentices complete their qualifications, but just can't find the time to mentor.

This can put an apprentice in a difficult position if they have queries about their working conditions. GenY doesn't respond well to an authoritarian boss or hierarchical workplace. Most want a mentor who will be interested in them, someone they can talk to and who treats them fairly.

Employers, including small business owners, with good retention rates tend to have help with human resource matters. They take the apprenticeship relationship seriously and stick to the deal in practice as well as on paper.

Matching the apprentice to the trade matters. One in three is likely to leave their apprenticeship in the first year. And 55 per cent complete their time, but some then leave the trade immediately after they qualify. You've just wasted four years in getting them up to speed. Why?

Feedback from MEGT's apprentices shows they were dedicated to finishing and had a good work attitude, but never liked that particular trade. Testing to see if the job seeker is right for your trade is clearly worth doing.

The more successful employers have established guidelines for recruiting workers and apprentices. Most importantly, they are willing to listen and learn from others whether that be a partner, colleague or industry association.

Strength-based recruitment and development is the key. It will help retention and it results in employees who are made for the job rather than just capable of doing it.

We at Business Tasmania would like to thank Colin for his contribution.

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