There is a plenty of debate around about the value of apprenticeships in business. Do they add real value to organisations and individuals or are they way of businesses getting cheap labour. Here Cybertill CEO, Ian Tomlinson, shares his thoughts on the value of apprenticeships and how SME retailers can make them work.

Apprenticeships can work for SME retailers, but like most things in life both parties have to truly invest their time and energy in to making it a success.

For an SME to do an apprentice justice there is huge amount of time involved training and working with apprentices to properly educate them in their chosen career. If SME retailers see it is a way of cheap labour then this is misguided and more often than not they won’t realise the value of the individual and it won’t reap any benefits for their business. Any SME involved with an apprentice scheme should realise that any such schemes are an investment in time and money, far outweighing the initial short term capital savings of choosing an apprentice over employing some one more experienced. Each SME is different but a good breeding ground for apprentices are those SMEs that focus on personal development and are adept at delivering training.

Any SME that is able to spend time and money training apprentices, can be greatly rewarded. As many individuals that come through apprentice schemes are often more productive, demonstrate greater loyalty and pose significantly less risk to the organisation. But perhaps the most important element of any apprenticeship is the both the SME and individuals selecting the right party for the role. If an SME retailer chooses an unsuitable candidate it matters not how good their training and guidance is, for they won’t get the desired results.

It is important that apprenticeships and education however mirror the working economy as well as taking account of our national aspirations and goals. What industries do we, as a nation, want to promote, what areas do we need to develop to make our industries and businesses more competitive. And we as businesses need to do more to engage and stimulate students and the young in promoting our business sectors and the opportunities within.

From a personal perspective, running a software company, in schools do we teach our children enough about the development of software, or just how to use it? We need to understand how it works, and with it what it can do, these are core skills that Britain may face skill gaps. Free educational programs like Code Academy are great tools for those eager to learn, but this should be backed by development classes taught in school.

In turn what can we as businesses do to engage and excite future software developers?  The Raspberry Pi Project is an excellent example of what can be done, this product has generated huge demand from the British Public and its initial aim was to halt the declining numbers reading Computer Science at university.

The same question should be asked for SME retailers, what can they do to engage and excite the next generation coming through. How can they entice good quality apprentices into retail and promote it as an exciting industry to be in with plenty of opportunities. For some sectors this is certainly easier than others, but no matter what getting good apprentices into business can be a force for good.

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