HR 9 March 2018

Providing apprenticeships that encourage diversity and business growth

disabled talent
The best apprenticeships are now geared towards long-term success

As National Apprenticeship Week shines a light on the benefits of in-work training opportunities, Anna Hickey, managing director of media agency Wavemaker, considers how employers can look beyond traditional placements.

National Apprenticeship Week 2018 aims to raise awareness of the apprenticeship as a route to a promising career, and the past few days have certainly showcased some of the recent innovation in entry-level careers programmes.

A new approach from business is needed because, at worst, apprenticeships have acquired a reputation as a means of providing cheap labour or basic support for employers, setting up meeting rooms or providing the tea, rather than teaching applicants a real skill.

However, this situation is changing because the best apprenticeship schemes from employers are now geared towards long-term success for both the applicant and business.

In light of this progress, we chose to launch The Splash, Wavemaker’s new apprenticeship programme, during National Apprenticeship Week, showcasing our drive to identify and hire a diverse range of talent, and reflecting our mission to provide accelerated learning and real work opportunities, no matter the background or discipline of each recruit.

Why look beyond the traditional apprentice scheme?

Learning a skill is vital, so each of the 12 entry-level hires we expect to make through The Splash will focus on a specific area of Wavemaker’s business – media, content, or technology. The apprenticeship qualification itself is important, and is provided through our partnership with Creative Pioneers, the body that offers apprenticeship opportunities across the digital creative industries.

But an entry-level programme is all about promoting and accelerating diversity, because the pace of change is too slow and lack of progress is adversely impacting business. We don’t have an issue attracting high quality graduates, rotating them through different parts of the business and watching them succeed.

The only downside to this successful programme (which we are continuing this year) is that the recruits tend to be very similar – highly talented and smart but from the same 10 or 12 universities. All the research shows that diversity of talent and experience delivers better business outcomes so the launch of The Splash is an important step forward.

Contrary to received wisdom, an apprentice scheme is also an opportunity to unlock opportunities from talented people that are older – they might be in completely different careers, working in a shop, call centre, or working at home as a carer, but these people have huge potential and can bring something else to your business.

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How to attract the talent

To encourage this diversity, it’s worth considering a process that’s not overly focused on CVs, asking instead that applicants address a real issue in any way they see fit. For instance, we’re requesting that applicants tell us “how you’d sell life insurance to someone under the age of 35”.

There’s no wrong answer here, we want to see people’s thinking, and encourage them to think “interesting” rather than “right”. Digital platforms are also a good way of broadening the scope of the search – we’re encouraging applications through social media, using the hashtag #thesplashwm.

If it’s a case of educating the talent pool about what you do, consider opening your doors to potential applicants. Our open house day during National Apprenticeship Week saw 150 people come through the door to hear from apprentices who have worked with us over the past couple of years. This helped to build a real feel and affinity for the business, provided by people who had already been through the process.

Speak a new language

The language you use is also important. With The Splash we call successful applicants “future makers” as opposed to apprentices, because they represent the future of the business. And think about providing a collective space for entry-level people to congregate and share ideas. We have a dedicated room for future makers, to encourage them to get together, and also apply their collective and unique talent to our projects for clients.

In terms of promoting your apprenticeship, a partnership with an equivalent body to Creative Pioneers not only provides the educational support necessary but also helps raise awareness of your programme. Another good route is to visit local schools, and also consider mentoring schemes with schools and colleges to build connections and motivate the best young talent.

A clear structure to the process is also necessary, and making this as uncomplicated as possible is likely to appeal to the entry-level audience. Once the applications are in, we’ll hold an assessment day for 50 or so talented people and then “live hire” on the day itself, selecting the 12 successful applicants there and then.

The effort will be worth it. Investing in an entry-level programme that encourages greater diversity and energy across your business will more than pay dividends.

Do something new and exciting with your apprenticeship scheme and you’ll attract incredible people who deliver excellent results.

Anna Hickey is managing director of Wavemaker

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