Why you should employ an apprentice

Marketing and PR manager, Shelagh McLachlan has employed a digital marketing apprentice for the first time. Eight months on she reflects on why she recruited an apprentice, how she is helping the apprentice learn and develop, and the difference it’s making to productivity and motivation of the marketing team.

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Catriona and Shelagh - Why Employ An Apprentice Blog

Employers – do you have a job vacancy? Why not offer it as an apprenticeship?

If I was a parent whose child was leaving school this year, I would be encouraging them to look for a Modern Apprenticeship. It’s an ideal way to start any career. They learn new skills, gain qualifications, get relevant work experience and get paid. It’s a no brainer! However, an apprenticeship depends on an employer having a vacancy. That’s why I’m taking the opportunity during Scottish Modern Apprenticeship Week, to write this blog aimed at employers – especially those who own a small business, to consider offering new vacancies as an apprenticeship opportunity. I’m doing it and it’s one of the best decisions I have made.

Why should you take on an apprentice?

Perhaps like me you have been trying to build your team with people who have the right skills and knowledge. Although I had received a high level of interest in my advertised vacancies from marketing and business graduates, they lacked the specialised skills and experience I was looking for. In my view their learning had been too theoretical. I was keen to do my bit to develop Ayrshire’s young workforce, I knew that young people would bring energy, enthusiasm, creativity and a fresh perspective to my team so I decided to grow my own digital marketing assistant.

Why bother? I hear you say. Surely you will have to invest a lot of time and money training them, and then – there is a risk they might leave. Well, I believe as employers we have a responsibility to invest in our future talent. We have to bring in new people and replace skills. We have to ensure our current staff have opportunities to pass on their skills and knowledge to the next generation. As for leaving, I think if you look after your team and do the right thing by them, you will retain them.

Who would make a good apprentice?

I don’t think this can be defined by age. I think you need to look for someone who has the right mix of skills, experience and personal qualities who would fit into your team. For me this meant someone who could demonstrate reliability, a good work ethic, great interpersonal skills and communications skills, understood the importance of customer service and came across as friendly and outgoing. Enter Catriona Cook – someone who had a series of hourly paid jobs in various customer service roles and was now looking to start a career.

It is important that the apprentice has a willingness to learn and will invest time and effort building a future and aspires to a promising career.

How should we mould and develop our apprentice?

“Show Me”

Most of the apprentice’s learning will come from the team. I had commitment from my team – they could see the value of passing on their knowledge and skills and nurturing a young apprentice. Our marketing team is award winning – I had confidence Catriona would be learning from good practice and good behaviours. The business benefit is that it has reinvigorated the team – making them look at what they do. Young people look at things differently and are prepared to ask questions and challenge the status quo. Catriona wants to contribute and her fresh pair of eyes is always welcomed. As a student herself she has a great rapport with our students and can offer insight into our target market.

 “Teach me”

Catriona is working towards a Diploma in Digital Marketing and works with an assessor in the workplace to demonstrate her competence. It will take her two years to complete all assessments which are flexible and tailored to her job. She also goes day-release to college to complete a Professional Development Award in ICT which gives her skills using Word, Excel and Access programmes – tools she will use every day. She takes part in our staff training and has recently completed courses in LinkedIn, Writing for the Web and Pay per Click advertising. She also has access to a library of training courses on-line, called Lynda.com. Her portfolio will be impressive and she will easily be able to provide evidence of her digital marketing skills.

“Inspire me”

Probably the most important achievement of any apprenticeship is confidence building. Each day she has an opportunity to shine and make the job her own. The important tasks she is given make her feel a valued part of the team. She is encouraged to believe in her own ability. Catriona’s post is funded by the Ayrshire College Foundation and she is responsible for helping to design their website, managing the content management system for the website, communicating news using Twitter and LinkedIn, writing press releases about the Foundation’s news and events and updating the trustees at their regular meeting. She benefits from their encouraging and constructive feedback.

I do appreciate it might be more challenging for a small business to learn from “the team” when there is only one or two employed in the business.

What are the business benefits?

The benefits are easy to see – from day one Catriona has been learning specific digital marketing skills and is making a positive contribution to our team. She is developing a specialist knowledge and is a great support to her colleagues. She is growing and developing with the organisation and understands the ethos and values, and you can see this coming through in her work.

I genuinely think I have a more motivated and satisfied workforce as everyone is contributing to her development and we are proud of her progress and achievements.

Productivity has increased. Each week the digital marketing team meet and make a content plan for the week ahead – we inspire Catriona to be creative and write posts for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. We review our Google Analytics and make decisions about our website and Catriona is given tasks to achieve to improve the visitor experience on our website. We plan our advertising campaign and show Catriona how this process works. We have been able to increase the volume and quality of our posts.

Ayrshire College has been crowned the best college in the UK for Twitter and LinkedIn content by the social media ranking tool, Edurank. It’s been a team effort and our modern apprentice has made a significant contribution to winning this award.

Still need to be convinced? I have asked Catriona to write a diary each day this week so you can hear for yourself what she is doing and the impact this has on our marketing productivity.

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