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Employing an Apprentice

Employment law solicitor Natalie Ruane discusses employing an apprentice in more detail.

Employing an apprentice can be a great way to harness and develop new talent for your business.  If you are having difficulty recruiting, “growing your own” may be a practical alternative.  You can sometimes access a grant or funding to do so too.

Data from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in December 2014 shows that of the 200,000 firms employing apprentices:

  • 70% of them experienced an improved product or service quality as a result of employing an apprentice,
  • 65% of them said it helped improve productivity,
  • 79% would recommend an apprenticeship to other employers.

An apprentice is aged 16 or over and combines working with studying for a work-based qualification.  An apprentice can be a new or an existing employees.  An apprenticeship can last from 1 to 4 years, depending on the level of qualification the apprentice is studying for.

There are, however, legal pitfalls in the different contracts that are available for when you employ an apprentice.

There are two types of apprenticeship contracts – the old style apprenticeship contract under common law dating back to the 1800’s and the new style apprenticeship agreement under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (“ASCLA”). 

An old style apprenticeship contract does not need to be in writing or even state that it is an apprenticeship.  However, apprentices working under this old style contract enjoy quite a lot of legal protection. For example, unless a business is closing down completely, case law suggests that old style apprentices can’t be dismissed unless they are “unteachable” or their conduct “renders it impossible” to teach them.

If an old style apprenticeship contract is terminated early, it can mean compensation for wages for the remainder of the apprenticeship period.  In addition to which, old style apprentices cannot be validly selected for redundancy ahead of other employees and will be entitled to compensation for the loss of future prospects and status if you do so.

Along with the political drive to encourage apprenticeships, the concept of an apprenticeship agreement was introduced as a way of making things easier for employers.

An ASCLA apprenticeship agreement must be in writing and must satisfy certain conditions as set out in the Act.  The conditions are:

  • that a person (the ‘apprentice’) undertakes to work for another (the ‘employer’) under the agreement;
  • that the agreement is in the prescribed form;
  • that the agreement states that it is governed by the law of England and Wales;
  • that the agreement states that it is entered into in connection with a qualifying apprenticeship framework.

An apprenticeship framework is a ‘qualifying apprenticeship framework’, if it is:

  • a recognised English framework, or
  • a recognised Welsh framework (both of which are set out in the Act and respective Regulations).

An employer must be careful to ensure that all of those conditions are met otherwise an old style apprenticeship contract will have been created unintentionally instead.

The biggest advantage in using an ASCLA apprenticeship agreement is that these apprentices can be treated like ordinary employees and do not have any special protection.  This means that they can be dismissed for poor performance or misconduct provided a fair procedure has been followed.

Once the apprentice is employed, here are 10 tips on how to make that relationship work:

  1. Give them a mentor or buddy to help them settle in.
  2. Outline the basic requirements in office etiquette, using their phone at work, being ready to start work on time and not just arriving at the premises at their start time with their coat still on etc.This sets clear expectations.
  3. Support their training.
  4. Have regular catch-ups to review their progress and development.
  5. Set targets – make some short term and achievable as well as longer term.
  6. Use their skills in contributing to the business.
  7. Challenge them with a new task to test their skills to avoid boredom.
  8. Reward them even if it is just with praise for a job well done.
  9. Have regular communication with their training provider to check on progress.It is amazing how many employers do not even know if the apprentice is turning up at college, let alone doing the assignments.
  10. Make them part of your team and include them in team activities and meetings.

For more information, contact Natalie Ruane on nr@burnetts.co.uk or on 01228 552222.

About the author

Natalie Ruane profile photo

Natalie Ruane

Natalie is a Partner and leads the Employment Law & HR team and specialises in education.

Published: Tuesday 26th May 2015
Categorised: Employment

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