The Benefits Of Apprenticeships In The Workplace: An Interview With James O’Donnell

We’ve previously written about the importance of a multi-generational workforce for business success. Today, we spoke with James O’Donnell, Sales Director at LDN Apprenticeships to find out about the benefits of having apprentices in the workplace.

Hi James! Tell us, what is LDN Apprenticeships?

LDN Apprenticeships is an apprenticeship training provider. We believe that young people are remarkable and have the potential to help businesses achieve great things. Our job is to match young people in London to awesome apprenticeship opportunities, and then train them through digital and tech skills whilst they’re starting those entry-level roles with businesses all over London.

It’s an exciting time for us; we’ve been growing every year since we started in 2011 and recently had an OFSTED monitoring visit where we achieved top marks across all areas. We’re very happy to be changing young people’s lives.  

What can employees and apprentices stand to gain from working with LDN Apprenticeships?

When our candidates apply online, there is a no CV policy. We believe it gets in the way of young people actually showing their best selves and we can avoid unconscious bias by going without one.

From an employer’s perspective, you get access to quality training, it’s government funded and best of all you can hire enthusiastic young people while developing them for the future.

As part of our screening process, we use a framework called EEWAP. These cover the key attributes that we look for from our employers and our young people to assure us that they’re going to be awesome apprentice partners. We need to see:

E –  Young people that have energy; where they’re bringing energy to every situation, and demonstrating energy every day when they turn up to work.

E – That people are enthusiastic; that they are aware or conscious of the opportunities that are in front of them.

W – That they are willing to learn. They take notes, love learning, are constantly curious and ask questions.

A – That they have the ability to take feedback. It’s crucial that when clients or our team are giving them feedback about particular bits of work, they understand it’s being delivered from a position of care and support to help them grow and develop.

P – People with the propensity to take action. Unless they’re going to give things a go and try things out then they’re never going to go through that learning cycle.

And by using the framework, regardless of the role they’re training for; if they learn those meta-skills about being a good employee, then that’s a foundation that’s going to help all businesses and young people we work with.  

Tell us about some of the successes you’ve had with placing young apprentices into tech firms.

We’ve partnered with a variety of tech firms, from big businesses such as Funding Circle and Starling Bank to smaller businesses of 5-10 people. In both types of organisation, we saw young people starting in a particular apprentice role but then, over time, taking on more responsibility to grow into a bigger role within the organisation.

Funding Circle are one of the bigger organisations we work with. One of our apprentices, Ellie, was placed with them as a Client Services Executive and is now running team meetings after just a year. She also won our ‘Apprentice of the Year’ award and has recently moved on to a level 4 programme with us in business administration. Her attitude lead to her becoming a success – irrespective of the tools that she’s been learning to use through the role.

Additionally, smaller businesses we work with are looking to include digital skills in a new way. One of those is District4, based in Farringdon. They took on a digital marketing apprentice, Adam, to work with them initially on social media posts and marketing. They saw a really good return on investment of the money that they have spent on Adam and he’s actually won new clients and new customers from the work he’s been producing.

Once a young person is in their position, how does mentorship and coaching become important to helping keep them and their employer engaged?

It’s hugely important. We get clients involved in the early stages of our recruitment process by running events called Career Kickstarters. We invite business to come down and meet a small group of young people that are interested in digital marketing and we go through speed interviews, elevator pitches and a bit of networking. Then, they will trial a handful of those people in roles so they can experience a true day-in-the-life sneak peek.

Throughout the whole process, the line managers are making decisions using the EEWAP framework, meaning they look at a candidate’s attitude rather than their existing skill set. That feeds through to the rest of that person’s development. We’re always referring back to the EEWAP framework, to make sure that both sides are contributing and being incredibly present every single day while they’re at work.

In the monthly reviews we do with every young person, we go into their workplace and spend 15 minutes with their line managers, see what’s working and what isn’t, then an hour and a half session with the young person, then a 15 minute wrap up at the end. One of the things we’ve found is that there are a lot of young people who want to get into apprenticeships, but supporting the apprentices’ line managers is just as important.

What do you think are some of the stereotypes of young people in the workplace?

We work with young people between the ages of 16 and 23 and we focus our energy on people of that age to combat the massive amounts of unemployment faced by this age group. We’ve spoken to many businesses that are unsure about hiring those under 18 – or they think it’s not useful for them to engage with young people – however, we don’t focus on age. If a 16 or 17-year-old is good enough and has the right kind of attitude, we welcome them.

There’s this idea that young people are going to be like Kevin and Perry from Harry Enfield – not motivated or enthused, but actually entitled (to quote the classic ‘millennial bashing’ viewpoint). In my experience, it’s the complete opposite of that. For a young person to make the decision to take on an apprenticeship is a big one and makes them stand out in the world of work – they’ve made the decision that they want to do something big, they want to learn.

By looking at the attitude of young people, rather than the skill set, the employer can gain so much. Skills are really easy to teach, that’s the whole point of people doing apprenticeships. If a young person wants to do an apprenticeship, that means in five years time when they’re in their 20s, they’ll have had five years worth of experience. Apprentices are willing to put the graft into roles to start a career. And that’s why a lot of businesses are turning to apprenticeships as a way of widening their candidate pool.

What are some of the key skills and attributes that young people can bring to the workplace, which other generations might not?

They’re all digital natives, they’ve all got basic digital skills normally from their own personal use and we encourage applying those digital and tech skills on behalf of a business. Plus, enthusiasm!! A lot of businesses that I talk to about the EEWAP framework say to me they want to see this kind of attitude across their entire workforce. Young people can bring so much energy to the workplace that might be lacking otherwise.

Why do you think diversity at work – from every perspective, be it gender, ethnic, socio-economic – is so important?

There are so many ways that you can look at diversity and inclusion as a factor when you’re investing in new people. Those that choose to do apprenticeships have chosen to do so because for whatever reason they see obstacles in their path – perhaps university is prohibitive for them on cost – so an apprenticeship is a great way of helping them get into the workforce.

These young people are no less talented, intelligent or enthused than anyone else. They just need another route to start their career.  We need there to be more businesses opening entry-level opportunities in digital and tech to allow people from a variety of different backgrounds to start careers and become role models for future generations.

To any firms looking to hire an apprentice, where should they get started?

The first thing a business should do when they’re looking to hire an apprentice is have a conversation with a training provider. There are lots of different providers out there, including us, so do come and have a chat with us if you’d like to know more.  

Each provider does things differently, so it’s important to understand how they find candidates, how they deliver and what they are doing differently from other providers out there.

The provider should also be able to help your business through the process of how funding works, coach and consult you about how best to manage apprentices through onboarding, plus have monthly catch-ups to check in with the business and young person.