At Capella, we have two PRCA apprentices on the team, with our first approaching his one year anniversary. We’re massive advocates of apprenticeships, but would be the first to admit that we had a few teething issues in the early days.
We thought we’d share our learnings from the past 12 months in the hope it will inspire more employers to take on apprentices, whilst doing so with their eyes wide open to both the benefits and the investment needed.
What’s in it for us as an employer?
We support apprenticeships for a number of reasons:
- Diversity – As a business we want to ensure our team reflects the wider publics that our client campaigns are trying to reach. We were in danger of building an agency only staffed by university-educated, middle class people and wanted to introduce more diversity.
- Fresh perspectives – The enthusiasm and energy our apprentices bring to Capella is hard to beat. Josh and Derrick have brought new perspectives to brainstorms and introduced the wider team to new sources of media.
- Top talent – Ultimately, we’re doing this to access talent that can help us grow the agency. Our apprentices are on permanent contracts, the same as all other staff and we fully expect them to remain with us after their apprenticeship ends. Getting people early in their careers means we can shape them into the kind of people that we know deliver exceptional work for clients.
- It’s rewarding to do the right thing – As a team, we want to give people a leg up who may otherwise find that not having a degree narrows their options. After all, every one of us got a break from someone to kickstart our careers.
What’s in it for the apprentice?
Apprentices get the opportunity to earn while they learn. Our apprentices are studying for a Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship in Public Relations, equivalent to the first year of a degree.
One of our apprentices, Derrick, said, “I love that I get to work side by side with experienced professionals who I can learn from. I’m able to develop a range of skills and acquire experiences that benefit me in my personal and professional life, whilst studying for a fully accredited course. Being a PR apprentice has definitely made me more culturally and politically aware by which I’m able to engage with the media in an informed way.”
Josh recently eloquently shared the story of why he chose an apprenticeship – you can read about that here.
We hired Derrick and Josh via the PRCA Apprentice initiative. As well as organising the external training, each PR Apprentice is assigned an assessor by the PRCA who visits them once per month, sets and structures their work, and provides on-going support.
What things should employers who are thinking about taking on their first apprentice consider?
Here are some things we’ve learnt that others might find useful:
- Treat the interview process seriously – As with any job application process, there will be interviewees who are not right. Involving a cross-section of the team in the process is a good idea, but senior people have to be present too.
- Team members, not tea makers – We have always treated our apprentices as account execs, rather than giving them menial tasks or using them in a general office support role. That has worked well for us and sent a signal from the beginning that they shouldn’t think of themselves as different from other entry-level staff.
- Think big start small – Whilst we treat our apprentices in the same way as other AEs, one thing we’ve realised is the first few months need special attention. We learnt that introducing them to clients and a full workload needs to be staggered. We perhaps expected too much of our first apprentices and threw them in a little too deep too early. Derrick diplomatically comments, “The fast pace at which the agency works to is very different to what I’ve experienced in previous roles, but I feel I’ve acclimatised to it well and it has helped me in terms of time management and multi-tasking. The level of responsibility which I received was unexpected, but incredibly worth it.”
- This is not about saving money. The cost of our apprentices is the same as an entry level AE. Make sure your motivation is not about saving money.
- Be prepared to invest time and energy – It’s fair to say that our apprentices have needed far more training and support than a typical AE, particularly in the early days. Our apprentices have an internal mentor and lots of on the job coaching.
- Be aware of peaks and troughs in coursework – Managing work and study can be stressful and we perhaps underestimated the amount of coursework the apprentices have to complete. We’ve tried a few ways of ensuring our apprentices get the time they need for their studies. We’ve now settled on one day a week that they spend out of the office to focus on this.
Overall, we would highly recommend the apprenticeship programme to others. Already 2.5 million people have started apprenticeships over the past eight years and all political parties are pledging to create millions more over the coming years.
At Capella, we will certainly be investing in more apprentices in the future.