Managing apprenticeships in SMEs

Businesses are being encouraged to hire apprentices to increase productivity and plug skill gap shortages. While an attractive solution for some firms, other SMEs remain unconvinced about the extra work involved in managing apprenticeships.

Since 6 April 2017 employers with a wage  bill over £3 million a year, will have been paying an apprenticeship levy to the HMRC through the PAYE process. Smaller firms with a lower wage bill do not need to pay the levy but at least 90% of non-levy-paying employers’ apprenticeship training and assessment costs in England will be paid for by the government, with these firms making a 10% contribution.

The government is keen to highlight the benefits to small businesses of apprenticeships – it claimed last year that:

  • More than 24,000 apprentice-employing SMEs in the private sector reported that hiring an apprentice has actually helped them win business
  • 3 in 4 SMEs that employ apprentices report increased productivity thanks to apprenticeships with product/service improvement
  • Nearly all (96%) SMEs report at least one business benefit to hiring an apprentice.

The Federation of Small Businesses also backs the government on apprenticeships and believes that apprentices can be a real asset for many smaller businesses and are vital to the future of the UK economy.

One SME which introduced an apprenticeship scheme when it realised a third of its workforce would be retiring during the next decade was Metalcraft. This Cambridge-based engineering company increased their apprenticeship training to attract young, local talent to help fill the skills gap.

Tips on managing apprentices

If you’re convinced of the positive impact of employing apprentices, you’ll need to think about managing them. Part of the employer’s responsibilities include payment of the apprentice’s wages and placement in a genuine job which also helps them gain the knowledge and skills needed to achieve the apprenticeship. Time management can be a major challenge – apprentices may be less experienced in managing their own time so may need help and closer supervision.

Here are some tips on managing apprentices:

  • Clocking in and out – you’ll need to keep an accurate record of their hours worked and know when the apprentice is on site. This is important for apprentices because they are likely to be absent for off-the-job training and/or further study. Some firms have also found that younger apprentices find time discipline an issue so absence and lateness monitoring  may need special attention.
  • Payroll – payroll staff will need to receive the authorised timesheet from managers on time to arrange payment and at the correct apprenticeship rates. Since 1 April 2018, the minimum wage rate for an apprentice is £3.70 per hour. This rate applies to apprentices under 19 and those aged 19 or over who are in their first year. Apprentices must be paid at least the regular national minimum wage rate for their age if they’re an apprentice aged 19 or over and have completed their first year.
  • Appraisal – feedback to apprentices is especially important to monitor the skills and knowledge they are acquiring so schedule meetings in advance. It’s useful for managers to keep a record of the types of jobs which the apprentice undertakes so these can be discussed.

Businesses with time and attendance software will find it easier to manage apprentice hours and wages. The benefits of using cloud-based software such as uAttend include:

√  Choice of clocking-in options – you can choose from 6 clocking-in options to suit the needs of your business and how you want your apprentice to work. The options include web, phone and free smartphone app clocking-in as well as RFID and biometric terminals.

√ Automated timesheets and payroll – managers can access timesheets online to authorise them for payment.  24/7 access from internet-enabled devices means this can be done when convenient without being limited to the office.

√ Employee self-service – apprentices can be allowed the option to view their own timesheets and to request holiday etc. online or using the free smartphone app.

√  Real-time dashboards – when you’re off-site, you can see which staff, including your apprentices, are in or out, and who’s sick or on holiday.  It’s easy to pick up any lateness or absence problems.

√ Job tracking and running reports – automated job tracking means you can keep track of the apprentices’ hours allocated to different jobs.

√  Easy scaling up, or down – the subscription-based systems allows firms to scale up or down from a small number to thousands of staff with flexible monthly pricing plans available. It’s easy to add new staff members and apprentices.

Because uAttend is a cloud-based time and attendance system there’s no software to install or keep updated. It enables smaller businesses to punch above their weight and compete with larger firms who have the IT and HR budgets to match.

uAttend’s time and attendance software reduces the burden of workforce management. It provides an ideal solution for SME employers wanting to make the most of employing apprentices.