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In May 2017, Batch Gin released their first vodka. They’d never really planned to make a vodka, but their new apprentice Ryan Evans told them he had it covered. Much to their delight – and relief, no doubt – this special edition addition to their spirits repertoire was a huge success.
“Ryan developed the whole product from scratch: from researching the recipe to developing ideas on how we’d market it,” said Batch's operations manager, Johdi Dinsdale.
“Seeing what we could create as a business through his eyes was incredibly important to us at that time. Gin was huge, and we’d never given vodka a second thought. His research and enthusiasm led us to try something new, and it worked. Now it’s on the shelves in Selfridges.”
The team at Batch Gin.
What’s interesting about Batch’s experience with apprentices is the fact that they decided to take on an apprentice during a pivotal point in their initial growth.
At the time of his arrival, the company only had two full-time employees, but rather than seeing an apprentice as a demand on precious resources, Dinsdale said hiring Evans gave Batch the opportunity to train him from scratch as the company grew.
“Taking Ryan on helped us shape the future of our workforce," she said. "We could train him up with the skills we really needed him to have as skills gaps were revealed.
“Essentially, we shaped him to fit us, and in return he’s now completed his apprenticeship and joined us as a junior distiller full-time.”
Training an apprentice can be done in a few different ways. Some small business owners choose to hire their apprentices through local college apprenticeship programmes with set in-college training days (or weeks) to take some of the weight off their shoulders.
Others, like Batch, choose to train their newbies in-house, so they can mould them in their image and generally keep an eye on their progress.
As apprentices are generally unskilled or undergoing a complete career change, investing in their training is obviously directly relevant to how beneficial they can be to your business.
The current apprenticeship levy was introduced in April 2017 to encourage this investment – however, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) has strong feelings that the way the levy works should change.
The CIPD is calling for a regional skills fund, created by funds invested by the largest employers, to address local skills shortages and demand. On top of this, they are calling on the Government to broaden the apprenticeship levy to one that includes more varieties of employer and skills-based training.
This is some way off, however. If you’re running a small business your main concern is, and should continue to be, how an apprentice could benefit you. Worry about the details of the levy changes later. That’s what everyone else is doing.
Apprentices often come to businesses straight from school or college, and of course this can come with its own perceived challenges.
Dinsdale agrees that wider issues of soft-skills like punctuality, attitude and professionalism aren’t taught in schools, and are areas that require an employer’s time and attention, but she believes it’s ultimately well worth the hassle.
“It’s fair – you put in as much into their training as they put into their work," she said. "There might be some hand-holding along the way, but that’s all part of employing young people. They need your support just as much as they need technical training.”
She adds that employing an apprentice gave Batch Gin an employee who was ready and raring to go, unhindered and unjaded by prior workplace hangups.
Dinsdale said: “When we hired Ryan we needed someone keen to jump right in and learn how to be a fantastic distiller, and that’s what we got.
“Looking for an apprentice and then ultimately asking a successful candidate to join your team helps you to really see where your skills gaps are.
"You might find that the training you offer your apprentice could be widely appreciated throughout your business. It’s a great learning process for everyone.”
Junior distiller Ryan developed the special edition Apprentice's Vodka from scratch.
Some of the biggest businesses in the country are so invested in apprenticeships that their entire employment structure has been reworked to include ever more elaborate apprenticeship training programmes.
They’re popular, too. Topping the Rate My Apprenticeship 'Best Apprenticeships in the UK 2019-20' list are BAE Systems, the National Grid, Bam Nuttall and the BBC in that order.
It’s unsurprising that each has their own inbuilt framework dedicated to hiring and training apprentices based on their unique industry skills gaps.
For small businesses, entire apprenticeship frameworks might be excessive, but the value remains.
“We’re definitely considering taking on another apprentice in the future, particularly in the area of digital skills,” added Johdi.
And while Batch may not be looking at creating a fully automated internal apprenticeship framework, there are ways the Government has made it easier for small businesses to hire apprentices.
If you’re a small business hoping to bring an apprenticeship into the fold, one of the best things you can do to kick things off is to visit a local college or training provider.
Not only will they be able to offer guidance on the types of apprenticeship training, frameworks and standards they offer to make your life easier, they will be able to share information on the funding available to you as the employer.
Oh, and they’ll help you with recruitment too.