Employers' roles in apprenticeships

As the only specialist general further education construction college in the UK, former BTEC Apprenticeship Provider of the Year, and CIPHE Approved Training Centre, Leeds College of Building is at the forefront of apprenticeship development.

The college currently works with over 800 employers – from local companies to global corporations – and has around 2,800 apprentices in diverse specialisms enrolled, making it one of the largest apprenticeship training providers in construction nationally.

When it comes to hiring an apprentice, some employers still have reservations and there are challenges that need to be overcome to make it a more appealing prospect.

“Some employers may not feel that they have the time to dedicate to working with a novice, particularly during busy times of the year, as they feel that they will slow them down,” explains Philip Bray, head of faculty for sustainable building services at Leeds College of Building. “A lot of plumbing and heating engineers operate small companies or are one-man bands and it is a lot of commitment to take them on for four years. Additionally, the logistics of picking up apprentices can be tricky as heating engineers travel around to clients, so ideally anyone they take on would need to live close to them.

“The benefits for employers investing their time in an apprenticeship will mean that they will have a team member who they can rely on and work well with. Four years is a long time and at the end of that employers will have a skilled worker who can earn them a lot of money.”

Perfect pairing

Some students attending the college already have an apprenticeship and their employers want to enrol them on a course. Others are looking for apprenticeships and the college works with local employers to find the ideal match for both parties.

When it comes to finding an apprenticeship or apprentice, it isn’t as simple as picking a student at random, according to Bray. Placement officers work hard to ensure they suggest the right student for the job.

“We run study programmes in all aspects of construction, with an aim to get each student a placement,” explains Bray. “To ensure that students get first-hand experience we work with employers to take students on week-long site visits before being placed with an employer. This is also a great way for employers to try out a potential apprentice.”

Philip Bray, head of faculty for sustainable building services at Leeds College of Building​

Understanding apprenticeships

Finding suitable employers for apprentices is not an easy task and the COVID-19 outbreak has made it more difficult. Although there is a vague sense of normalcy within the industry, things are still not as they were pre-pandemic.

“It has become increasingly difficult to get employers to engage, while others don’t fully understand the apprenticeship process and what is required of the students from an academic standpoint,” says Bray. “Some employers come to us with apprentices, but they don’t have the right qualifications to enrol on the courses. It is important that if employers are seeking their own apprentices, such as friends and family, they ensure that they are capable of passing the exams.”

When pairing students with employers for apprenticeships the college looks at students’ grades and supports them with extra tuition if required.

Employers’ role

One of the main issues that arises with apprentices is that the employer doesn’t fully appreciate their role in the process. Although the apprentices are a spare pair of hands when times are busy, it’s important that they support them in their academic endeavours too.

“No matter how busy the employer is, it is vital that they allow their apprentices to come to college for their study day,” says Bray. “If they miss their day in college then they miss out on essential information and are more likely to fail their end phase test. If they fail, they will not receive funding to retake the course.”

It is important that potential employers speak to their local further education providers about apprenticeships and they will be able to explain the funding rules, entry requirements and skills scan (which assesses the individual’s competence against the knowledge, skills and behaviour requirements of the standard). They will also be able to put reliable students forward for apprenticeships.

The College provides a recruitment service to employers, which includes:

• guidance about employer funding support and incentives;

• advertising vacancies internally;

• candidate screening;

• providing access to full-time students;

• offering interview-hosting facilities and assistance;

• work experience support.

“Employers need to be doing all of this type of work in order for students to achieve the standard,” says Bray.

However, potential employers should not be put off. “We’re happy to speak with employers, to offer our guidance on apprenticeship funding and incentives at individual organisations, and explain where we can support training needs.”

Skills shortage

Although there is a large skills gap, teaching apprentices about renewables is difficult to deliver as employers need to be covering the required tasks on site and demand from consumers remains relatively low.

“The college invested heavily in renewables in 2010 and nothing really came of it,” recalls Bray. “If we were to offer the heat pump route to students, we need to make sure it is viable to run.”

The Government’s mini budget did not offer funding for further education colleges and Bray says they need to invest in developing new recruits, but there simply aren’t enough teachers to deliver the courses.

“It is hard for further education facilities to prepare if we don’t know what direction the government is going in,” adds Bray. “We also need to upskill our staff as well. The reality is that wages are higher on the tools than in education, so it is hard to entice someone from the industry to teach. In fact, teachers are looking to go back into industry.”


If you are considering a Higher or Degree Apprenticeship for employees, read the Employer’s Guide to Professional & Technician Apprenticeships, for more information.



For apprenticeship vacancies follow the links below:

• England: gov.uk/apply-apprenticeship

• Scotland: apprenticeships.scot/find-a-vacancy

• Wales: careerswales.gov.wales/apprenticeship-search

• Northern Ireland: nidirect.gov.uk/services/search-apprenticeship-opportunities

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