AGR Blog

How to better recruit apprentices


AGR Research Analyst, Samuel Gordon crunches the latest data to better understand the different approaches to recruiting apprentices and graduates, helping inform more successful recruitment strategies.  

According to the latest AGR research, competition for apprentices is rising fast. Among student employers who are paying the Apprenticeship Levy this year, 83% are recruiting new apprentices, and the growth in their hires is a whopping 59%. In real terms, this means that our members are seeking over 4,500 extra apprentices compared to 2016.

However the survey also found that it seems to be harder to attract students to apprenticeships than to graduate posts. Apprenticeships only attract an average of 22 applications for every vacancy, compared to 68 applications for every graduate role. As a result, employers will need to think carefully about how to attract the best apprentice talent and how to tailor their recruitment for this growing market.

Here are further AGR insights that should help you to tailor your recruitment to the apprentice market.

Marketing to apprentices

Employers market to apprentices in broadly the same ways as they market to graduates. The top three methods are the same: online marketing (92% of employers use this for apprentices), use of print materials (84%), and visits to students at their place of learning (91%). Companies typically visit 26 schools to attract apprentices, compared to 20 universities for graduates. Some expertise on graduates is transferable to apprentices too.

However, there are a couple of key differences. Only 28% of employers use student competitions to engage apprentices, compared to 48% for graduates. What’s more, 45% of employers market specifically to the parents of apprentices, which is not something we’ve heard about when it comes to university leavers. Creative engagement will be key.

There are many forms of engagement to consider. Those companies who responded to the AGR Apprenticeships Survey spoke of targeted advertising through third parties, employability programmes for NEETs, sourcing candidates from existing part-time staff, using an intranet to advertise to parents of potential apprentices, and working closely with professional bodies. There are lots of ways to approach your marketing differently.

Selecting apprentices

A tailored approach to selection is already common. Employers are more likely to use phone interviews for apprentices and less likely to use video interviews, psychometric tests or assessment centres. Only 30% of firms use video interviews for apprentices and only 56% use psychometric tests. The use of these for graduates sits at 43% and 77% respectively.

Bespoke application forms are sometimes used in place of generic CVs.

As one employer stated, “we don’t use CVs any longer but a relevant application form, which is then screened. It helps ensure the candidate provides the right information and if they are younger they struggle with a CV anyway”. Think carefully about the types of information you want from candidates who will have had less experience of work.

Assessment centres are also likely to be more practical. “We also run work placement programmes in place of the traditional assessment centre that will include work based tasks and interviews,” stated one employer. Another mentioned, “Some locations opt for assessment centres whereas others hold face to face interviews, we don’t encourage the use of both as we feel it’s overkill for apprentice recruitment”. You may want to review your candidate experience for apprentices too.

Skills training for apprentices

Apprentices are less likely than graduates to have key soft skills. The majority (91%) of employers think at least some apprentices don’t have the soft skills they expect. But part of this gap could be down to communication – if you don’t share with your candidates what you are looking for, it’s hard for them to meet your expectations. In many cases, apprentices are also very new to work.

Here are the five most common skills gaps for potential apprentices to focus on. A large proportion (61%) of employers think that their apprentice hires lack business-appropriate communication. The next four most common gaps – in order – are time management, professionalism/etiquette, confidence and presentation skills. Employers may want to offer outreach activities on these skills, focus on developing them in work experience programmes, or offer remedial training for apprentices once they are in their organisations.

In the end, the key challenge will be finding students who are the best fit for your firm. But these statistics provide a start. Keep an eye on the trends, collaborate with your peers, and let’s make sure we keep creating great opportunities for young people.


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