Can apprentices increase diversity in the workplace?

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The panel

Sponsored by Weston College, Business Leader Magazine recently hosted a roundtable debate looking at the future of the professional services sector. Guests answered questions around their recruitment policies and approach to millenials. 

How do you currently recruit for new staff?

Gareth Edwards (VWV): “The typical recruitment model is to go through the trainee route and we operate this model; and recruit two years in advance. We do also look at alternative models but we haven’t gone as far as legal apprenticeships yet but do have apprentices in business services.”

Sam Lee (Bond Dickinson): “We launched our first legal apprenticeship scheme in 2014 and we are now recruiting our fourth cohort of paralegal apprentices. The first scheme of this kind was launched in 2013 and we spend twelve months convincing the powers that be to do this.

“The reason we did this was because we had a few staff retention issues and we also wanted to open the profession to people from backgrounds, whom may not have considered becoming a lawyer.

“It’s been such a success that we will be launching our first solicitor apprenticeship scheme in September.”

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What has been your experience of running an apprenticeship academy?

Ben Leah (Hayes Parsons): “We started our apprenticeship academy in 2013 and this was unheard of in our industry. But we were concerned by the quality of candidate that was applying for job vacancies.

“The big boys in the industry were letting the side down by coasting and this resulted in getting people apply who had low skill sets but were demanding high wages.

“So, we decided to grow our own. We have taken in two per annum from 2013 and we expect to retain around 50 per cent each year. It’s been great for us because they push existing staff and challenge the status quo. The environment at Hayes Parsons is one where we encourage alternative working methods and new ideas.”

What have been the challenges?

Ben Leah

Ben Leah: “The challenge is actually getting new potential recruits through the door. Insurance is seen as boring but like any industry, when you get underneath the skin of it – it is very diverse and technical. We’re veering more toward post 18 now, rather than post 16 as they have more experience.

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“Another challenge is that we can train technical skills but it would be helpful if students came with more soft skills and an ability to be open minded.”

Do apprenticeships increase diversity in the workplace?

Anna Wilson (Barcan Kirby): “It does and we work with lots of inner city schools but the issues is that there isn’t much knowledge about apprenticeships given to the teachers and students at the schools.

“They don’t seem to know much about it. Those that may want to enter the legal profession don’t have the information they need to do so.”

Karl Brown

Karl Brown (Clarke Willmott): “I’m excited that there is now a recognition amongst professional services firms that they need to widen the pool of their intake. As we head further into Brexit, there is a greater need for UK PLC to make use of all of its talent.

“It’s interesting what accountants are doing as some are forgoing the need for formal academic qualifications or embracing contextualised recruitment – which is looking beyond a candidate’s grades and taking in their circumstances.

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“As a B grade for a student from an under privileged background may have taken more effort and work than an A grade from somebody from a privileged background.”

What do millennials say they want from a job?

Helen George (Weston College): “Initially they want exposure to different businesses and to find out what it’s like to work in these environments. They also ask to sit in on meetings and value businesses coming to talk to them.

“Regarding the actual job – what they want is a career path with development and they value businesses that invest time in them.”

Should these business skills be taught at primary school level?

Helen George: “Yes, it should be made part of the curriculum from a much earlier age and not just a focus when they come to a college. Employability skills are embedded into every class we run and it should be the same at primary school level.

“But this requires a top down change in approach from government as schools are currently judged on education outputs and not business outputs. We say to our students that you can get a first class degree but it doesn’t mean anything unless you have the other soft skills.”

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