Apprenticeships have skyrocketed in popularity across a range of industries. In 2015, 65% of employers believed that their school-leaver intake would outnumber their graduate intake—and this became a reality for almost half of employers by 2018. If you want to join them, here’s your step-by-step guide, using the methods that have worked for our clients time and again.

In 2019, taking on apprentices makes business sense. As well as attracting top applicants from the school-leaver market, apprenticeships are becoming more and more popular with graduates, with almost half of UK undergraduates considering an apprenticeship after their degree. 

Since 2012, we’ve had a prominent position within the early careers market—in that time, we’ve seen proof that apprenticeship programmes are a good idea. We also know exactly what you need to do to set one up, and we can assist you at each step of the way.

Strategy and planning

The Apprenticeship Levy

As with anything, it all starts with a plan. Not only do you need to evaluate your current systems of training and recruitment, you also need to build a business case to change the perceptions of those within your organisation who have doubts. Do your homework and make sure you have answers to the toughest questions before making your pitch. 

You should know, for example, that most apprenticeships were introduced across different sectors because of the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy—a levy on UK employers to fund new apprenticeships at 0.5% of an employer’s pay bill on annual pay bills in excess of £3 million. Employers who commit to training new apprenticeships “get back more than they put in” by training sufficient numbers of apprentices. 

Depending how much your training programmes cost, the Levy could offset some of these costs if you replace some existing training incentives with an apprenticeship. We’ve seen organisations transform their perception of the Levy from a pot of apprenticeship-specific money to a firm-wide internal training budget. Make sure the decision-makers are clear on the Levy and the function it can serve.


It’s crucial, at this stage, to do your research. We have five years of market-leading data and analysis on the school-leaver and apprenticeship market. Here are some stats to bear in mind:

Eight in 10 young people rely on their parents to assist with career decisions.

26% of parents think their child is too smart to do an apprenticeship.

Almost half of graduates would consider doing an apprenticeship after completing university.

Facts like these are important when building your business case. Internal research is also crucial. Which individuals and departments within your company are on board with apprenticeships—and which aren’t? Now is the time to clear up any internal misconceptions about apprenticeships. This is also an optimal time to recruit some pro-apprenticeship supporters for your business case! 

Once you know what kind of apprentice your organisation needs, you can start looking at Apprenticeship Standards—guides that show you exactly what a given apprentice should be doing. We have a searchable database of every approved apprenticeship standard in the UK, linked with live jobs so you can see what your competitors are offering. Take a look and see which roles are relevant to you. 

The steps to implementing an apprenticeship  

1. Training providers. First things first—select a training provider. Research a few: consider the quality of the applicants, the rigour of the assessment process, the track record of this training provider within your sector and the facilities they have in place. 

2. Attraction and advertising. When it comes to attracting candidates, it differs from the graduate market. There are 130 universities, but there are 4,168 schools. This makes it much more difficult to devise a blanket strategy when it comes to attraction. Consider who you’ll engage with: while school leavers are important, so too are their influencers [hyperlink to influencer article].

It’s also essential to build an online presence around your new opportunity, so you can reach digitally-focused school leavers and their parents. We’ve done this for a number of companies hoping to generate a buzz around their apprenticeship programmes, and we can do it for you too. 

3. Engagement. One of the best ways to get school leavers enthused about your programme is to meet with them—and their influencers—face to face. Traditionally, companies have done this via school visits, such as assemblies and workshops. But the return investment on this kind of event is low—after all, you can’t guarantee that the students in an assembly hall or classroom are interested in your exact sector or apprenticeship level.

Instead, we’ve seen huge successes when our clients have opened up their office for insight events, organised by us. Bringing students into the office with their parents allows them to visualise how they might fit into the business. By the time the event is over, you have a pre-screened talent pipeline—and you have the parents on board. 

4. Selection and assessment. When it comes to selection and assessment, it’s important to go beyond the offering of the training provider—particularly for Level 6 and 7 apprenticeships. Establishing your own needs—and that of your apprentice—will ensure that your implementation process runs smoothly. Would an interview work? What about psychometric tests—and if so, which ones? 

5. Onboarding. As with earlier in the process, parents are crucial to ensuring that your apprentices feel supported. Beyond this, you should have a schedule of acclimatisation activities—as well as regular catch-ups—in the early days. Remember, apprentices are often younger than graduates and need more support in the early days.  

6. Retention. Getting the apprentices on board is just one step—the next is ensuring they are supported and stimulated enough to stay. A difficult period for Higher Apprentices—known as “the wobble”—is the deluge of freshers’ week events, experienced second-hand via the social-media feeds of friends who went to university. A well-timed work social, or some extra effort to highlight the benefits of the apprenticeship route, can go a long way at this time. 

Analysing and improving

You know from implementing other forms of training that nothing ever runs smoothly from the offset. You need to keep an eye on how things are going, celebrate your successes and realise your areas of improvement. The best way to do this is through benchmarking strategies. 

There are a number of ways you can assess the success of your apprenticeship programme once it’s up and running. Firstly, you can conduct internal audits. Giving apprentices and other staff members the chance to offer feedback is a great way to track progress. Positive feedback will add fuel to any business case you want to make for more apprenticeship programmes, while negative feedback can be used constructively to make improvements to the programme. 

Another highly effective means of benchmarking is to enter national apprenticeship awards—the biggest being the School Leaver Awards. If you’ve created a great apprenticeship programme, it makes sense to have it recognised on a national stage, using real data collected from your apprentices. Success in the awards will give you another string to your bow when negotiating for a bigger apprenticeship budget. Externally, it also puts you on the map for would-be apprentices. Top candidates will gravitate to a top firm, and winning an award is a great way to attract them.

Our awards are also a great chance to see where you fit into the bigger picture, and how your company ranks in terms of location, industry and type. We can provide a detailed Benchmarking Report after the awards so you know exactly where you stand, giving you cause for celebration as well as direction on how you can grow.

Want to know more about apprenticeship strategy? We can help 

* indicates required
Which products are you interested in?
Which brands are you interested in?

Read next