Investing in staff: How hiring apprentices changed our printing business

The Custom Planet team
The Custom Planet team

Andrew Dark, managing director of printwear and branding specialist Custom Planet, shares his thoughts on how hiring apprentices can change your business.

Custom Planet was founded in my bedroom while I was at university. The business has since grown to 11 employees, something which I believe could not have been done without utilising apprentices.

Of the 11 employees currently working here at Custom Planet, two are current apprentices and two are former apprentices hired full time after their year came to an end. Over a third of the current workforce has therefore come through an apprenticeship scheme and, simply put, they have changed our business.

Placing trust

In my opinion, if you place your trust in young people and give them a chance, they almost invariably rise up to the occasion and often even exceed your expectations.

Of course, given the history of the company, it has been easy for me to place my faith in young people. As I was a student when I started Custom Planet, I don’t have the distrust of young workers that many employers unfortunately share. In my opinion this is a real shame, as many companies are completely missing out on the chance to nurture some great talent.

In my experience, your employees will live up to (or in some cases down to) whatever standards you set. Give young people all of the training they need to excel in a role, and they’re just as likely to succeed as an older employee. Furthermore, given the outlay you’re saving by hiring an apprentice rather than a member of staff on a full-time wage, you can afford for them to take a bit longer to get to grips with the job.

Provide everything needed to succeed

The key to getting the most from your apprentices, however, is to make sure you provide them with everything they need to succeed in the role. Many employers get young people in on apprentice wages for cheap labour rather than providing them with the training they need to succeed in the role. This is not only bordering on immoral, but also a total waste of potential. If you provide your apprentices with the infrastructure to succeed by giving them room to try things and occasionally fail they always respond with a level of maturity beyond their years. On the other hand, if you just use the apprentice scheme as a way to get cheap labour, your company won’t benefit nearly as much.

One obvious way you can benefit from fully embracing the apprenticeship scheme is by creating readymade employees for yourself over the course of the year. By embracing the opportunity to give young people a trial run before investing in them as a full-time employee, you can train them up to the level that they can come into the job and be running at full pace straight away. In an industry such as garment decoration, where it takes a few months to get new workers up and running on the different machines, this is a great boon.

A less obvious benefit that you’ll find if you embrace the apprenticeship scheme is the chance to refine your training processes. If there are aspects of the job that new apprentices frequently struggle to learn, then try to alter the way you teach it and see if you can make it easier for them. Furthermore, consistently ask your apprentices for feedback on the training you’re giving them, and use this to make the process more efficient each year.

Provide feedback

When new apprentices come in, it can be a great chance to give your full-time employees the opportunity to experience the managerial side of things, if they’re interested in doing so. For example, you could let one of your trusted members of staff take the reins and train the apprentices, or have each member of your team train them in an area that they’re strong in.

This will not only give the new starters a chance to get to know the team better, but also show your employees how much you trust them. In addition, it will help them gain managerial experience in a safe environment. Give your staff plenty of feedback on the training they provide, and they may thrive under the conditions and make themselves an obvious candidate for a managerial role.

With so many industries currently suffering from a severe skills shortage, getting apprentices in and spending a year training them up to the required level can often be the only way of acquiring staff with the adequate skills. This has definitely been the case for us, as it can be a real struggle to hire people who have the relevant experience straight off the bat in our industry due to the specialist nature of the equipment used. As everyone who steps in to our factory for the first time is essentially starting from blank slate, it’s often much more cost efficient to get apprentices in, as full-time members of staff coming in from another industry can take just as long to learn the processes on a much higher wage.

While relying so heavily on apprentices may not be the right fit for your business, keep our company’s story in mind when it comes time to hire your next members of staff, and if you haven’t already, consider bringing in some apprentices.

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