Managing apprentices in the post pandemic era: What business leaders need to know
Apprenticeship training has been gaining momentum over the last couple of years. Although the system has been existent for about 60 years, it’s the manufacturing sector which has been actively engaging the apprentices. However, today, employers in the services sector are also equally actively resorting to apprenticeships for creating the talent in-house. This shift in approach towards the apprenticeships has been largely on account of the returns which the employers get by making investments in apprenticeship training. Apprenticeships infuse fresh talent in the labour market which is the need of the hour, ensuring real time talent availability. This in turn reduces the cost of hiring and potential productivity loss due to lack of talent.
It’s a no brainer for the HR folks that the higher the absorptions of the apprentices into employment, higher are the savings made in hiring talent. It's to create a supply chain for talent. The structured approach of training through apprenticeships ensures the productivity of the workforce which reduces the cost of quality and improves the output of the business. The crux is that apprenticeships create Human Capital for an organisation. The longer an organisation is engaged in apprenticeship training the higher returns it enjoys.
The shift in the skilling ecosystem due the COVID 19 pandemic
Last year, pandemic created an unprecedented situation that created a stir in the labour market. Reverse migration of labour created void; social distancing and Remote working became the new normal. Pandemic influenced apprenticeships as well, but for a good. Employers who had some experience in apprenticeships, scaled up the apprenticeship training by engaging with the local population to ups-kill them and reduce the void and maintain continuity in business operations. Social distancing accelerated the adoption of digitisation, even in apprenticeships. Virtual training replaced actual training on ground, for conceptual understanding, which became a mechanism for engaging with workforce work and upgrading the skills. The advanced virtual system like Virtual Instructor Lead Training (VILT), Augmented Reality made learning more effective. The adoption and completion rate for learning modules improved drastically for apprentices due to flexibility and accessibility. The better things to happen during the pandemic were reforms in the education policy with the focus of blending skills with the mainstream education leading to degree apprenticeships with an active involvement of industry along with academia. But pandemic also made organisations sensitive and conscious of the welfare and mental well-being of its people including the apprentices.
Lessons for business leaders, in the post pandemic context
Apprentices are an integral part of the organisation and need to be nurtured to create human capital. Organisations need to create an enabling ecosystem with an active involvement of the relevant stakeholders to get the desired results from apprenticeship training and hence manage the apprentices delicately who are naïve and raw, needing guidance and helping hand. Pandemic has made organisation realise the relevance of apprenticeships and should be conscious of following:
Create an enabling culture which has a buy in for all the relevant departments to actively engage with apprentices. A few systemic and policy changes may be required to accommodate apprentices. Be flexible, don’t be rigid or reluctant to change, and make way for new rules which encourage initiative and transition.
Be fair, don’t exploit and duly reward. Abuse of apprentices could be demotivating and could earn a bad reputation to the employer. Be humane and have defined training hours, since it involves learning by dual actual work to ensure the stipends are paid as per the defined rules. Treat them with fairness and respect.
They need to get the same attention for their well-being as the regular employees. Apprentices could be future employees so take care. Extend support during testing times, take care of the health and safety of them and their family members, and make provision for vaccination.
Maintain parity with welfare benefits like transport facility and access to cafeteria, leave policy. Give them a sense of belongingness. But disparity is essential in compensation and statutory benefits which should encourage them to perform better to earn the employment perks.
Be patient. Expecting the same output as from experienced people is unrealistic. Be patient, they will reach productivity levels soon. And don’t give up and to see the positive evidence could take time of a year or two. But once they are invested in apprenticeships for about two years, the outcome is quite stark.
Don’t terminate them during testing times because they don’t get covered under labour law. You may want to extend the same measures as applicable for regular employees. Termination will disrupt the talent supply chain machinery and apprentices will have low confidence in the employers and in the concept of apprenticeships which will amplify the talent crunch in the market.
Apprenticeships future proofs organisations from talent shortage and maintains business continuity in a situation like pandemic, and help them tide over skill crisis in longer run. It’s for the employers to come forward and be the ambassadors for other employers to motivate them for apprenticeship engagement and nurture the concept of talent creation by giving an opportunity to the youth to have a rewarding career. The advent of degree apprenticeship post pandemic under the new education policy will encourage academia and industry collaboration for the upward mobility of the youth, enhancing their employability livelihood and create a healthy talent pipeline.