Dale Power Solutions is an award winning apprentice employer that has a successful track record of apprentice employment. The business is currently celebrating the fact that a team of its apprentices won the Brathay Apprentice Challenge in July.
Over 25% of the business’ employees started their careers as an apprentices, leading to long and successful careers in engineering. We asked Business Support Manager, Mark Carter, how they approach apprenticeships and what creates a winning formula.
Tell us about your business
Dale Power Solutions is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2015 by featuring a colourful and rich history of which apprenticeships have played an important role. We are one of the largest secure power solutions providers in the UK employing 250 people, half of which are part of our dedicated national service team providing 24/7/365 customer support. We have 9,000 generators and UPS systems on service and maintenance contract, including 1,200 MW of generator power and 30,000+ DC systems and batteries. We are proud of our pedigree and proud to be an award winning apprenticeship employer producing award winning apprentices.
How does your business find the process of working with a training provider?
There are three key elements to a successful apprenticeship program – the apprentice, the employer and the training provider. Whilst success is the combination of the three, the training provider’s role is very important to both the apprentice but to the employer as well. The apprentice needs to be fulfilled throughout their academic education and have the support of the training provider. The employer needs to have confidence that the time spent in the workplace by the apprentice is supported fully by the education plan meeting the needs of the program. The training provider also needs to be as flexible as possible to support changes that can occur within the apprenticeship with the sole aim, to ensure the apprentice realises their potential.
How does the recruitment process work?
For Dale this has changed since we recommenced our apprenticeship program back in 2004. Then we advertised locally for two apprentice positions and we had 2 applicants. By 2006 we were attracting circa 30-40 applicants and these were typically 16-18 years of age applying March to July. Today we do not advertise at all and each year we attract circa 80 applications throughout the year and from an increasingly wider area. The age range has changed significantly as well, now 14-30 years of age. A covering letter of introduction and a CV directly to us or to our training provider is the starting point.
By the time they start their Apprenticeship are they fully employed by you?
Yes, absolutely. Taking on an apprenticeship can be a big step for the apprentice and for their parents. We offer a four-year apprenticeship contract from the start which features milestones for the apprentice to achieve both academically and at work. For each milestone achieved the apprentice is rewarded financially. At the end of the four year contract we discuss a permanent contract in a suitable job role that the previous four years has led to. This provides the apprentice with a natural progression plan from the off, helping them build their confidence and with an overall target to achieve at the end – and with great satisfaction in achieving their goal. Offering a one-year apprenticeship on minimum wage with no guarantee of further work is not the best way to build confidence of your apprenticeship program.
How do you think recruiting apprentices compares to recruiting interns or graduates?
We have recruited graduates in areas where a step up in skills can be an advantage over an apprentice. However, we find that graduates are not necessarily the complete answer to recruitment. Apprentices on the other hand take longer to gain the academic skills but by the end of their apprenticeship are a more valuable asset to the business. Gaining an Advanced and Higher apprenticeship in 5 – 6 years but also having the work experience to go with it speaks for itself. The apprentice, generally is also more loyal to the business for the longer term than a graduate looking to start their career.
How do you help your apprentices settle into the business?
Taking on an apprenticeship and walking into an engineering and manufacturing environment can be more daunting that it first appears. In many cases this is the apprentice’s first job, having not had any relevant work experience while at school this can be the first time the apprentice has been in a factory. For a school leaver the workplace is hugely different to school as are the responsibilities of the apprentice. We recruit apprentices approximately 6-8 weeks before they commence their academic studies so they can settle in to their new job and working environment. The apprentice has a mentor from the start and we have regular contact to review progress and iron out any issues if they arise.
How far can apprentices progress in your business?
Over 25% of our employees started their careers as an apprentice and are employed in various departments, job roles and at various levels within the business, including our Chief Executive. We offer Advanced and Higher Apprenticeships and support apprentices through to graduate sponsorships. The power of apprenticeships, where could yours take you?
What are the challenges around recruiting apprentices?
This comes back to the three key apprenticeship elements, the apprentice, the employer and the training provider, and how these are integrated. With the number of unemployed 16-24 year old’s and the increase in people looking for alternative career paths than university there is clearly a large pool of talent available for apprentice recruitment.
What have been the costs to your business?
Firstly, this should be seen more as investing for the future rather than a cost. For an Advanced Apprentice there are funding streams that mean the cost to the employer, other than salary, are negligible. The only issue Dale have faced regarding “costs” has been the lack of funding available for Higher Apprentices undertaking higher education (no funding) rather than further education (funded or partially funded).
What challenges do you think are facing smaller businesses recruiting apprentices?
The main challenge is related to the three key apprenticeship elements. Finding a suitable training provider who can support the business needs and having a suitably strong apprenticeship program that ensures the apprentice can fulfil their potential. This means getting apprentices not to undertake an unduly high level of menial tasks and they have career plan ahead of them.
What do you see as being the main benefits to your business?
The main benefit is producing employees who share in the business vision and are aligned to the business strategy. Apprentices can demonstrate new skills for a business and new ideas and in some cases new technologies as well. Investing in them, their education and future produces employee’s who are more loyal to the business.
Dale have developed our Corporate and Social Responsibility Strategy to involve apprentices. We are regularly working with our local community, schools and colleges to inform students of alternative career paths that apprenticeships can offer. Educating students in the local area about apprenticeships will produce future apprentices and employees.