Managing an apprentice, whether they're a school leaver or an experienced colleague, is unlike any other management experience.
Your responsibilities, although rooted in typical tasks like meeting targets, must shift to enable their success.
- If this is your apprentice's first job, they'll need your guidance and patience. Schedule regular 1-2-1s, give them feedback and social pointers and create a warm and welcoming culture
- If your apprentice is an experienced, or existing, member of staff, help them to establish their new role. Delegate work to make their apprenticeship manageable and communicate with the wider team to set expectations
- Keep tabs on their wellbeing and mental health so they're happy to be at work, with enthusiasm and energy levels that will power them towards their goals
It can take a long time to recruit the right apprentice, but there should be equal weight given to the choice of manager.
Apprentice managers are a guiding light in the apprentices learning journey. They should be inspirational, a good role model and fiercely proactive.
They recognise that qualifications improve individual abilities, which supports teams, improves service and generates more revenue.
If your managers can identify the positive ripple effect training brings, they're good candidates to manage your apprentices.
Apprenticeship management doesn't require rare, or 'unicorn' management characteristics.
A blend of inspirational and assertive qualities will hold them in good stead. If those are baseline qualities, the rest can be developed, they'll just need support.
The best apprenticeship managers are malleable.
They're flexible to the needs of the apprentice but they're ultimately uncrackable.
If a pressurised situation draws the apprentice away from their qualification, the manager needs to take the wheel, steady the ship and get them back on course. That requires social dexterity.
As an extension of that characteristic, the best managers are able to create positive microcultures around the apprentice, but that's not to say they wrap them in cotton wool.
By arranging beneficial professional connections to aid the apprentice's development, they are protected from disruption and distraction.
The people they position around the apprentice are hand-picked encouragement klaxons.
That degree of professional buoyancy and manoeuvrability asks for spades of emotional intelligence and strategic thinking. But most managers who love working with people will resonate with this.
If they have a vision of improving the wider business via training, they willingly invest their time and energy into your apprentice and see the value in doing so.
The manager is in place, so now you're just waiting for the apprentice to join.
Top of the to-do list before they arrive is planning the workplace induction and preparing the processes, environment and your people for their arrival.
First impressions are everything and if the apprentice feels comfortable, confident and eager to get started, you’re stretching back the elastic on the success catapult, ready to launch on day one.
The induction process
HR will have an induction process for all recruits. If this is the first time your company has taken on an apprentice, ask to review the process and make sure it's the right pitch for an apprentice:
- Is there an initial tour of the building, identifying quiet spots they can go to study?
- Are they shown how to book meeting rooms? Highlight which would be best suited for studying (for example, is there a phone in the room which is likely to disturb them? Can they connect their laptop to screens?)
- Is it clear when they can/should stop work to go and concentrate on the qualification content? If this is their first job, and they're the only apprentice on staff, they might feel uncomfortable without your direct permission to study
- Are 1-2-1s booked in with their managers, the training advisor and HR rep? This should be done well in advance of on their first day, so there is already a calendar of meetings with prepared people in place when they join
- Has all the training they need been arranged? Ideally, short training sessions, to introduce them to company policies and procedures will immerse them gradually in practical, understandable way
- Are 'get to know you' meetings with people at all levels from around the business queued up?
- Have they been invited to company activities and events, like group walks or exercise classes?
- Are the company benefits, and what they're eligible for, highlighted clearly?
These steps show them that you have a continuous interest in their development. It will give them a sense of belonging and place. They trust you to look out for them.
Health and safety training
The first few months in a role are a risky time, particularly for younger recruits who might be in their first job.
They need to feel safe at work and their managers are responsible for keeping an eye on them, alongside the health and safety managers and facilities managers.
If you're in manufacturing, construction, chemical or an agricultural environment, there are more hazards, and accidents are more likely if you're not prepared.
If the apprentice is alert, it's likely the hazard controlling measures you have in place will suffice. But, if the apprentice is easily distracted, or very focused on the task at hand (because they want to do a good job!), you'll need to make extra provisions.
If they're not aware of risks and hazards, it's your legal duty to train them and keep them safe.
"You might need to adjust your workplace risk assessment to account for your younger members of staff and under Working Time Regulations 1999, apply additional provisions," explains TSW's Head of Health and Safety, Luke Pitt.
"If you need support, check the HSE guide 'Young People At Work And The Risks'."
Set them up with the right tools
When you're managing an apprentice, they might have all the right qualities, but little hands-on experience. You might need to teach them the basics:
If they have a laptop:
- Install office packages like Word, Excel and everyone's favourite, PowerPoint and put some time in the diary to make sure they know how to use them
- Outline the IT policy
- Ask them what packages they like using that's relative to their role - they might have some game-changing information that will help you work more efficiently
If they work in specialist environments:
- If they use equipment or machinery, set up inductions and training with experienced team members. Make sure they can operate confidently and safely
New, young apprentices need guidance and patience from their manager.
If it's their first job since leaving school, they have no reference point for what professional behaviour looks like.
The working world is a departure from the classroom, and not everyone flourishes at school as they might in the workplace. Some people need more directing than others, so again, you might need to go back to basics discussing:
- Arriving on time and ready to work
- Communicating clearly and professionally in person and over email/messaging services
- Showing them how to contribute to the culture
These small, subtle behaviours are reputation-building tools. Apprentice or not, everyone wants colleagues who are punctual, reliable, friendly and clear.
But again, emotional intelligence is a contributing factor. A young apprentice might have the professional attitude of a more mature worker, so managers need to observe what the existing skills are and build on them.
If your apprentice is working towards a Level 4 or 5 apprenticeship, or maybe even an ILM, they have years of professional experience behind them. It's not their first rodeo and they don't need you to hold their hand or micromanage their to-do list.
It might be in this circumstance where you need to gatekeep their time and skills, so they aren't overwhelmed with requests from around the business. It can be hard to say 'no', particularly to superiors and this is where a great apprentice manager shines.
Your strategy to support them needs social dexterity, as we mentioned above.
The first question you need to ask yourself is: Do they have the experience to balance an apprenticeship and their work duties?
If not, you need to facilitate the balance:
- Identify which tasks you can take off their hands and see if you can become a point of contact for conservation heavy projects
- Get to know what the pressure points are and take steps to help them meet them
- Block out time in their calendar so they can have qualification catch-up time
- Allocate them a junior member of staff they can delegate to
- Give them organisational digital tools to help them organise their workload
- Put informal meetings in, coffee breaks in the canteen, to give them breathing space
There's no shame in needing extra support with apprenticeships as an experienced or senior professional.
The apprenticeship is made up of multiple qualifications and essential skills training in numeracy, literacy and digital subjects. It really is a balancing act. And, even they're working at the diploma level, it still might be their first apprenticeship, so the challenges are new.
1-2-1s are a time to reflect together about their performance so far.
You'll take the lead on workplace performance reviews. It's a good chance to hear about their aspirations and confidence, and what you can do to help them.
Draft-in the training provider and training assessor to discuss progress towards the apprenticeship. They'll have more idea about how they're scoring against particular aspects of the qualifications and what more needs to be done.
It's a good opportunity to plan the next steps. Could they take on the next level of the apprenticeship? If they're showing all the right characteristics, values and enthusiasm, this is a candidate you want on your team. What can you do to keep them long-term?
And, it's time for you to listen. What have they observed about the process, tools, culture and approach? What tricks are you missing? Fresh points of view, and a supportive culture that's open to new ideas, keeps your business competitive.
You'll need to be sensitive to their stress levels and help them to organise their time. You could:
#1 Authorise them to block out time in their diaries
Dedicate appropriate time to learning, workplace assignments or preparation for tests. An apprenticeship means they are employed to complete the course. Studying is their job, let them do it.
#2 Approve study leave
Employees studying professional development qualifications can have up to eight days of paid study leave per year. But, you could also arrange flexible working contracts for them if they ask, so they have some quiet study time at home every day.
#3 Help them to manage their workload
That could be through time management or task management tools.
#4 Manage the expectations of their colleagues
There will be critical moments during their course where they're feeling stretched and under pressure.
Their contribution to workplace tasks might change, or be less focused than usual. Help them to avoid frustrations of others, and even confrontations, by hosting an open and honest culture. They're busy, their apprenticeship is important to the business, so you're delegating tasks to another worker.
#5 Care about their mental health
Working and studying is a pressurised undertaking.
Apprentices have lives outside of work. Young children, running a household, paying the mortgage and perhaps even managing debt, or caring may be a big part of their lives.
You must be considerate. If they're managing to keep it together at work, that doesn't mean they aren't stressed or worried - see if you can help.
#6 Give them autonomy
Hold their hands, then let go and watch them fly. When they're ready, give them some responsibility and autonomy to show off what they've learnt, and discover ways to improve. It's also a good chance for you to get a fresh approach - what could you lift into future projects?
#7 Involve them in activities
Offsite events and extra-curricular activities, work-based exercise, and breakfast clubs will expose them to all kinds of experiences and people both in and out of your organisation. It will give them access to friendships and connections, plus develop their ability to network.
#8 Find them a mentor
A mentor builds their confidence and teaches them how to manoeuvre and behave to build their reputation. They aren't always someone from within your company, but they are experienced and successful. Think of them as a window into your apprentice's future - they're an inspirational presence.
Ask the mentor to offer encouragement. Whether it's via praise or constructive feedback, their sessions should drive them to succeed and be bold, to be noticed in the right way.
#8 Buddy up
Everyone needs a friendly face at work. Someone they can commiserate with on hard days, and celebrate with on good days, without fear of reprimand or judgement. Unlike the mentor, they don't have to be specifically motivational, just a kind friend. They need to recognise situations, empathise and help them navigate the workplace emotionally.
If you haven't managed an apprentice before, or this is your organisation's first cohort of apprentices, their presence could unearth some new challenges. One of which is the health and safety consideration, but there are three other areas you can work on:
#1 If it's an unwelcoming culture
Observe the environment you work in. Your company's 'normal' won't be normal for your apprentice. Although they need to acclimatise, they might struggle to fit in if they feel singled out or don't see people they can connect with.
Some situations are more hostile, competitive or assertive than others, so you need to be sensitive and mindful about how you introduce your apprentice to the workplace.
#2 If their abilities are underestimated
An apprentice is not an intern, although it's a common misconception. Keep an eye on other staff giving them work - a young apprentice, in particular, might not feel confident enough to push back. You need to gatekeep and question if these tasks are relevant and require a skill.
If they're consistently being sent out to get coffee, absolutely step in and block access until the requests are relevant and reasonable.
#3 If they feel undervalued
If your apprentice encounters resistance, your energy should be channelled into education. If there's a misconception that they won't pull their weight, or they're bunking off to study, it's an unfair and it will taint your apprentice's experience and discourage them.
A young apprentice, although they're under 18, is carrying a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, namely studying to better themselves your company. They should always feel valued, so nip nicknames which could be patronising (like 'kid', 'girl', 'lad', 'the intern') in the bud and teach the wider team what an apprentice is and how much value they bring.