Are apprenticeships worth the risk?
Are apprenticeships worth the risk?
It’s National Apprenticeship Week, a week-long celebration of apprenticeships. Have you considered apprenticeships in your business?
Apprenticeships are an accessible source of talent, seeing as the training is often government-funded and there can be even more financial incentives available to employers.
Apprentices must be treated fairly
Employers may hold a preconception that apprentices, as young workers, are more agile to the needs of their business. A word of warning here because apprentices should not be treated less favourably than other staff on the basis of age as this could result in a claim for discrimination.
For example, employers might choose to provide apprentices with the most basic employment rights (like minimum holiday entitlement and pension contributions), when other employees receive more favourable terms. This could present the apprentice with grounds to claim indirect discrimination.
There may also be legal requirements where an employer has to treat apprentices more favourably than other staff such as increased break entitlements and shorter working hours.
An area where we see a lot of mistakes is employers failing to place apprentices on an apprenticeship-specific employment contract. Getting this wrong could mean that you lose the ability to dismiss apprentices in certain situations. For example, if a business is experiencing a genuine downturn in work and needs to make redundancies, dismissing an apprentice covered by a contract of apprenticeship is likely to be found unfair and attract a significant amount of compensation.
Employers can avoid this problem by ensuring that the apprenticeship is in-line with one of the new apprenticeship standards and the ‘Apprentice Agreement’ is drafted properly. The will ensure apprentices are treated largely the same as their employee peers when it comes to dismissal.
The benefits of employing apprentices
Apprenticeships are well-positioned to fill skills shortages that many sectors face. Apprentices are trained ‘on-the-job’ with a big portion of their training being undertaken by a third-party provider, meaning employers can build apprentice specific skillsets with their own business needs in mind, whilst their classroom learning is undertaken outside of the workplace. Many apprenticeships pave the way for future employment and progression within the host company, as the investment of time and resource to the apprentice often builds a sense of loyalty.
The Government, too, is acutely aware of the benefits that apprentices can unlock for employers and continually analyse how they can improve opportunities for uptake, such as funding incentives for employers and designing more flexible apprenticeship schemes, including the flexi-job apprenticeship which is due to be piloted from April 2022. Keep an eye on our future developments on this topic!
Apprenticeships – our top tips
- Use the correct scheme – in England this should be an Approved English Apprenticeship, or in limited cases an Alternative English Apprenticeship. Welsh Apprenticeships differ and should still be based on apprenticeship frameworks as under the previous English scheme.
- Accurately record the details in an Apprentice Agreement – include the start and end dates of the apprenticeship, the length of the practical period with the business, the standard the apprentice is working towards (if applicable) and time to be spent training with the third-party provider.
- The Apprentice Agreement must be a contract of employment – in most cases employer should distinguish between a contract of employment (where the employer can dismiss an apprentice in appropriate circumstances) and a contract of apprenticeship (where the employer has little scope to dismiss even for genuine reasons)
- Follow developments on evolving apprenticeships – new regulations have prescribed for a flexi-time apprenticeship so keep in touch for developments on this pilot scheme, and any other significant changes affecting apprenticeships.
We can help
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.