Engineer showing equipment to a female apprentice, women in STEM

What does the modern apprentice look like?

Engineer showing equipment to a female apprentice, women in STEM

Article by Kathryn Jeacock – Director of client services at Tiro

The last two years have driven businesses in every sector to rethink their approach to talent.

With many still operating on a remote or hybrid basis, changing client demands and longer-term recovery from the COVID disruption, most organisations will now require different skill sets from those they were hunting for pre-pandemic, particularly for entry-level and trainee positions.

Working with some of the UK’s largest STEM businesses, TIRO has experienced these changing demands firsthand. Providing talent solutions for science and tech employers, I’ve identified a few fundamentals that should be central to every business’s talent strategy when it comes to hiring apprentices fit for the contemporary workplace:

It’s about enthusiasm, not school results

Judging candidates by academic results has always been a mainstay for hiring managers – but with the pandemic disrupting so many in school and college, do grades really provide an indication of an individual’s aptitude in the workplace?

I’d suggest not. I’ve seen countless businesses falling into the trap of hiring based on grades, rather than demonstrable skills, values and general work-readiness. The way that the UK education system tests the abilities of students hasn’t changed since the Victorian era. The world, science and technology have progressed significantly since then, but 18 year olds will still sit a basic timed ink on paper exam. In a dynamic and developing industry such as tech, judging candidates in this outdated way simply won’t do.

Instead, the solution lies in widening the net for potential talent and focusing on an evident enthusiasm for the industry. An enthusiastic apprentice will be able to grow their abilities and talent whilst in the role, what you’ll probably find is that they’ll progress faster, perform better, and remain loyal as a result.

They don’t have all the answers, but ask the right questions

The real business value of working with apprentices comes from being able to craft employees with skills that meet your specific demands. Recruiting “cookie cutter” candidates with good academic results, but limited understanding of their chosen industry, can limit an organisation’s ability to tailor their workforce to their business demands.

For example, we’ve seen the struggles that employers face with graduate hires; there is an expectation that graduates will be better prepared for the workplace, but the reality is often the opposite if they haven’t gathered any work experience during their studies, and can come with increasing salary costs incurred.

It is more useful for employers to work with apprentices who have the drive to find out more about the sector themselves, and can be up front about what they do and don’t already know. Successful apprenticeship programmes are collaborative between employer and learner, and allow training to be tailored to meet both of their needs.

An apprentice that is considerate, self-reflective and competent will be easier to manage, and will likely be quicker to train, which is undoubtedly beneficial to employers in dynamic sectors such as STEM.

They can take skills from the classroom to the workplace

The UK science and tech sector has experienced exponential growth in recent years, and at the same time organisations are reacting to changing demands, working conditions and circumstances. For hiring managers, it’s unpredictable and challenging to plan for.

There are some traits that are evergreen though when it comes to judging apprentice candidates. When interviewing candidates for our business partners, we always look for these practical skills, evidence of the ability to learn quickly and work independently.

The modern apprentice must demonstrate that they’re a quick learner, agile and eager. With the right approach and a desire to strengthen their own skills, apprentices can learn a lot in just a few months and start making a valid contribution to their organisation, and truly benefit from the established expertise amongst their colleagues.

This is particularly true for science and tech roles – enthusiasm, diligence and resolve are the essential traits for succeeding in high pressure environments, where accuracy is key. HR managers that prioritise sourcing these traits will find that their apprentices are more effective, and able to thrive.

But it’s all easier said than done. We know that attracting young people remains a challenge for most employers in the country, and that many businesses simply do not have the time or resource to conduct detailed searches for apprentices that present these qualities.

Working with a talent partner instead, such as TIRO, can allow organisations to benefit from experience with apprentice recruitment, without draining the resources of already overworked colleagues. But the time is now, as the sector continues to grow, organisations must seize available talent now if they hope to thrive in the future.

About the author

Kathryn JeacockKathryn Jeacock heads up the Client Services team at Tiro, including apprenticeship resourcing and our internal people strategy. She genuinely believes that science and technology apprenticeships can change lives, and is committed to providing the ‘wow factor’ for all our employers, apprentices and colleagues.

Kathryn has 15 years’ experience in human resources across a range of industry sectors, including innovation and space technology. She has helped businesses to grow and thrive, both as a C-level executive and as an award-winning team coach. She also sits on the board for the World Institute for Action Learning.