Last year, we conducted a survey into the state of recruitment within the IT industry and it revealed a trend; many employers viewed graduates as lacking the necessary practical experience or niche knowledge to make an immediate impact as a contributing member of their team. This shouldn’t come as too much of a shock and the feeling certainly isn’t confined to IT. It reinforces what a high number of representatives from across the hiring landscape have been stating in newspapers like The Times and Telegraph: that new recruits are simply ‘not up to the job’. A YouGov survey recently revealed that 52 per cent of graduate employers questioned felt that none or few graduate recruits arrived ‘work ready’.

Potential university students are swiftly coming to the realisation that the idea of a degree as a cast-iron guarantee for a job is a false one. Tuition fee increases have meant that applications for courses in 2014 were down in record numbers, and young school-leavers are looking for alternate routes to employment.

This, coupled with a well-publicised shortage of candidates possessing STEM skills, goes some way to explain a rising interest in apprentices among businesses. The figures are startling: last year, over 1.4 million online applications were submitted to UK organisations to attain a place on an apprenticeship recruitment programme. The rapid increase in popularity is because those in favour of apprentices over graduates are coming to the conclusion that if you have to be prepared to invest in a candidate with up-front training on the basics, it makes more sense to choose an apprentice. They will generally be younger and perhaps more mouldable into the ideal employee – who will not demand a graduate-level salary for the duration of their training.

Not only that, but onboarding younger people can inject huge enthusiasm, technological familiarity and loyalty into a company. Additionally, the government offers financial incentives to businesses taking on apprentices and for those aged under 25, the Department for Employment and Learning pays the full costs of the 'off-the-job' training. The government’s backing stems from the proven benefits apprentices have for organisations – statistics from the National Audit Office show that for every £1 spent on apprentices, £18 is paid back into the economy. With apprentices experiencing their first taste of working life and company culture at a particular office, they are known for repaying faith and investment in training with loyalty and, according to operators like Learndirect, display high retention rates – so the positive impact they can deliver for a business is sustained.

Of course, that’s not to say that apprentices will replace graduates entirely; those with the best succession planning, the ones that have a stream of young new talent entering the business ready to move up through the ranks, will blend enthusiasm and education in seeking to recruit from both channels. Organisations famed for their graduate schemes, including John Lewis, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Barclays, are substantially expanding their school-leaver programmes. Their approach highlights that for those seeking to establish themselves as the best employer and gain access to the brightest talent available, the phrase ‘graduates and apprentices’ should not represent a question or a choice as to which will deliver the best results, but rather should indicate a defined recruitment approach split between the two.

Sourcing apprentices with the right attitude and that are a good fit for a company’s culture is going to be one of the greatest recruitment challenges for businesses over the coming years. While there is an understanding that the recruitment process must be adapted for graduates, the same cannot yet be said for apprentices. While tactics like graduate fairs and tailored assessment days are established and proven methods when applied to graduates, effective apprentice attraction, assessment and demands a whole new rulebook. Attempting to directly apply a functioning graduate recruitment process to apprentice candidates will result in poor hires and potentially damage the employer brand with a less-than-optimal experience.

Recruitment of apprentices requires a fresh perspective and unique approach that they, as a unique set of individuals, will respond to. Documenting the components of a best-in-class apprentice scheme, we have described how exactly we believe a recruitment process for apprentices differs from others – let us know whether you agree, or even if you think apprentice recruitment doesn't require a tailored approach at all.

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