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Apprentices v grads: who's better for your business?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Wiser clarify the difference between graduates and apprentices so that marketers know how to use either.

Graduates and apprentices are two very different populations, with very different needs. With almost 1,000 apprentices hired since 2011, Capgemini knows the challenge of how to create and run a successful scheme, mitigating the problems and finding a role for apprentices alongside other early careers programmes. We sat down with Dan Doherty (graduate and apprentice attraction and recruitment manager) and Ben Rubery (apprenticeship programme manager) to get their insight into the value of apprentices and graduates, and the benefits they each bring to the business.

Why do you have apprentices at Capgemini?

Back in 2011, we had a skills gap in the business and the graduate programme wasn’t enough to fill this. We needed Software Engineers and there simply weren’t enough graduates coming out of university with the skills we needed. We decided that we needed to build our own technologists, for the present and the future business: that’s where the apprenticeships came from. We started with advanced and higher apprenticeships and found that we got really ambitious and enthusiastic people. After 12 or 18 months, they wanted more - that’s where the sponsored degree came from. This eventually evolved into the degree apprenticeships that we know today.

Why would you choose to employ apprentices alongside graduates?

Graduates and apprentices are two very different populations, who bring two very different skill sets. We will always have a need for both and, within our business now, a lot of the graduate roles are more business-focused, rather than technical. It’s about finding what each population brings and where they add the most value.

The whole market is changing and overlapping, as we are starting to also put our graduates onto apprenticeship programmes. Traditionally, we would have been looking for graduates with computer science degrees, but now we have an opportunity to look at those with degrees in other subjects. We can then use an apprenticeship to upskill them - either level seven for computer science graduates or a level four to bridge the gap. For example, in the consulting arm of our business, we put graduates onto a cyber security level four apprenticeship as an upskill. It works really well.

What are your top tips for attracting and recruiting apprentice talent?

A lot of people forget that attraction and recruitment are two different things. And that’s a huge mistake. Assessment and selection are not the difficult part of recruitment - attraction is - and that’s where you earn your worth. Make the recruitment process as short as possible: don’t put them through an online assault course. The worst thing you can do is take your graduate process and plug it into the apprentice world. They are a different population, and even tests that are about cultural fit may need tweaking. For example, consider the wording — are they going to understand what ‘commercial’ is? Or ‘entrepreneurial spirit’? Watch the use of jargon.

Don’t design your process around what works well for your team. Your team may like picking up the phone, but not all 17-year-olds love talking on the phone or being in front of a video. Multi-stream engagement and comms (including social media) are so meaningful. You want apprentices to feel like they are in control. That will keep them invested in the process, feeling both valued and targeted for the role.

How does recruitment differ from graduates?

Graduate recruitment is B2C; apprentice recruitment is B2B. In the graduate world, you sell straight to the graduates. However, in the apprentice world, there’s a much bigger need to sell to their influencers.

The recruitment and management of apprenticeships evolve rapidly. Companies have the chance to be at the forefront of their own game, but they need to stay on their toes. Top employers constantly change — just as the apprentice world changes.

How do you ensure business buy-in?

Fortunately, Capgemini has always had excellent apprenticeship buy-in. However, some organisations just starting out may face a challenge with business buy-in, due to the stigma around apprenticeships and the natural gravitas towards graduate talent.

It’s important to remember that apprentices spend years learning on-the-job skills, using cutting-edge technology and getting exposure to many aspects of your business. In this respect, their skills will almost always trump those of someone who has spent three years at university when they are directly compared. If you were to put two 21-years-olds side by side and compare them for a job based on their merit, skills and qualities (as opposed to qualifications), nine times out of ten you would choose the apprentice.

You may need to persuade the business to take apprentices, and you may need to go through a pain barrier to change the perception of apprenticeships to make this happen, but after that, they do the work for you! They demonstrate and prove time and time again that they deliver a massive return.

Conversations shouldn’t be about the levy. The fruitful discussions that we are having at the moment start from challenges with skills gaps or graduate attrition - apprenticeships are a solution to a problem, and the business case for apprenticeships is that the model will make the business better. The levy is only mentioned as a final nail on the head — it is an added extra, not the main subject of conversations.

Get apprentices in, and they’ll prove themselves time and time again. They’re the living proof for their own business case.

Lotte Jones, creative projects at Wiser.

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