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Paul Bryson is Head of Operations at Ribbonfish. He is experienced at building and leading strong teams to effectively deliver change and business growth.

When you hire an apprentice, you are doing your bit to support young people in the UK. This is one of the many reasons we decided to sign-up to the QA Apprentices and Learning Curve scheme. With each recruit we have been able to significantly contribute to the career of a young person at the start of their IT career. And it’s not only the apprentice themselves that benefit – we have seen our existing team flourish with the challenge of managing new people and developing their own leadership and coaching skills as a result.

As well as helping to combat youth unemployment, by hiring apprentices we have been able to develop a skilled workforce from scratch. Taking on fresh talent allows innovative technology companies, like ours, to craft the way that the team works. At Ribbonfish we all have similar values. We all place customer service at the heart of our business, and by hiring professionals at the start of their careers we have been able to ensure that they subscribe to the company ethos.

From a cost perspective, IT professionals can be expensive. By training up apprentices to work alongside our experienced team we have been able to balance the overall team cost.

So now that we have convinced you that hiring apprentices is the way forward for your technology team or business, here are some of the lessons we have learned along the way.

1) How to select your apprentices

Here at Ribbonfish, our candidates were selected via different methods. Our apprentices Rosie and Stream were selected via a Dragons Den approach – we were invited to the apprenticeship centre and they each had to present independently, followed by 10 minute speed interviews.

Our third candidate Chris was selected via a more formal approach with a Competency Based Interview (CBI).

From an efficiency perspective, the Dragons Den approach was the better approach. We were able to see 25 candidates over the course of the afternoon and see each individual both presenting and interacting in a group environment. Team-work is so important at Ribbonfish, so this was key to helping us make a decision.

If you use the CBI approach it allows you to discover potential which might not be seen otherwise. Since you are hiring an apprentice based on their aptitude; rather than existing competency – this is also a useful method. The use of both methods gave us a really good balance of personalities; which again, is ideal for forming a team.

2) How to work with and mentor apprentices

As the Head of Operations here at Ribbonfish, I took on the role of their line manager. However, at this stage of their career, apprentices need more support and guidance than normal staff. So, in addition to myself, each apprentice was paired up with a suitably skilled mentor employee and they also had regular contact with their training co-ordinator who was responsible for overall achievements and NVQ qualifications.

The main benefit for the apprentice is that they are learning on the job, getting paid and gaining a qualification. Even the most motivated of apprentices at this stage in life needs a strong support system to ensure that all these areas are covered.

Stream Conyer, one of our apprentices, says: “Ribbonfish helped me grow as an individual and helped me to develop and apply my knowledge and skills in IT. Not only that there was a great team to support me and guide me when I needed help, they made me feel like I was a part of team, which is important when you are just starting work.”

As you would expect, each apprentice has had a 1-2-1 with their support team to provide guidance and assess progress. The advantage of working to NVQ qualifications is that as well as the deliverables of the job, there is a clear line of progress which can be tracked for progression. It can be very motivating for everyone when this is all going to plan.

3) What happens after the apprentice has adapted to your business

So far, we have hired all of our apprentices. They all learned quickly and fitted into the team and the vision for Ribbonfish. We like to think that having hired the brightest apprentices, we are ahead of the curve when it comes to modern-day alternatives to legacy solutions. In other words, we think our clients have really benefited from this approach too.

Traditionally an apprentice would be hired on a fixed term contract until they had completed their level 3 apprenticeships; although many of our recruits have continued to take further qualifications and kept developing with training and certifications to help with their career progression.

Another benefit is that by the time they have finished their training they are often on a competitive wage, especially compared with their peers who would have been to university and paid student fees as opposed to benefiting from paid training.

Chris Trainor, 2013 apprentice explains: “At the end of my level 3 apprenticeship I had learned enough skills to carry out my work, I had also found that I enjoyed the job as much as I would have hoped, and made some money rather than paying for my education.

Looking at the further opportunities available to me I decided to carry on to the level 4 apprenticeship and was offered a permanent position at Ribbonfish, which I gladly accepted, as I found the work to be challenging and exciting and found the company to be a good fit for me. So far, I have been constantly challenged at my job and have been branching out my skills both technically and personally, I feel a lot more confident in my abilities and feel I can voice my opinion more now. Now that I have finished my level 4 apprenticeship I am looking at other training or certifications that would be a good match for my career progression and I feel I am on a competitive wage, especially as I have not been to university to get a degree unlike many in my field.”

At Ribbonfish we have found young apprentices to be keen to learn and succeed, while able to offer fresh and innovative ideas and solutions to technology issues. In our experience, they come to work to learn new skills and progress, and as a result are often able to energise those around them and increase overall productivity.

If you are thinking about hiring apprentices for your publishing technology team, please do get in touch and we would be happy to share our experience with you further.

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