In the second of a three part special on apprenticeships, HVP speaks with Hanover Building Services & Contractors about the reality of taking on an apprentice.

While the idea of taking on an apprentice as an SME may seem a little daunting, it can also be a step towards growth for those willing to invest.

It can be possible to take a bright young person, willing to learn, and not only help them through their qualifications, but train them to work in the same way you do, so they become a real asset to the company.

Founded in 1983 by Michael Weeden, Hanover Building Services & Contractors specialises in electrical, mechanical and renewable energy installations and has a long history of taking on apprentices.

Having started out as a one-man band managing the central heating of a block in West London, the business now employs more than 85 people, across a number of disciplines, with a projected turnover between £18 and 20 million this year.

Mr Weeden started the company after completing an electrical apprenticeship with Haden Young, and then took on Dominic Franzmann, now construction director, as an apprentice shortly afterwards.

In fact, every director involved in the company has come through an apprenticeship scheme, explained Mr Franzmann. They’ve all qualified in their trade and worked their way up the management structure, benefiting not only themselves but the company as well.

There are currently 15 apprentices working with the company – nine electrical and six specialising in plumbing.

Learning curve

After successfully recruiting a core team of learners through word of mouth and putting them through college, Mr Weeden realised that going forward the company would need help finding more reliable, committed people who wanted to do the work.

As such, the process of taking on apprentices has changed, and the company now uses various avenues to find candidates, including going direct to colleges and working with training charity JTL.

The quality of candidates is extremely important, and Hanover is quite clear that it only takes on the best, as the apprentices need to be able to cope with all aspects of the job and show that they’re going to give it their all.

Having hired an apprentice, it’s important to give them a comprehensive introduction to the company and talk through both what you will expect from them and what they can expect from you, explained Mr Franzmann. While it’s crucial that they take the job seriously, they also need to know that you’re going to be there to support them.

“Initially, these young guys and girls are still in school mode, and it’s hard for them to speak up if there’s an issue. We give them a mentor, someone who’s been working with us for a year or more, for them to talk through any issues,” explained Mr Franzmann.

“We handle them through their latter teenage years and we turn them into men and women ready for work.”

While an apprentice can be of real benefit to a company, Mr Franzmann also acknowledged that a business has to be prepared to deal with their initial lack of knowledge and be patient with them as they learn. The upside is that most people working in the trade have been through the same process, so they understand and can offer advice from their own experience.

“We are very insistent that they come to work to learn. They’re not there to fetch and carry, or hold people’s tools, and as soon as they’re working, that’s an advantage for us as a company,” said Mr Franzmann.

“It can be a steep learning curve for young apprentices, especially their first few times on site when they’re not familiar with the tools and the materials, but as long as everyone is willing to lend them a hand and explain things, they quickly get the hang of it.”

Businesses are responsible for ensuring apprentices have the opportunity to put their theoretical knowledge into practice and are able to carry out various tasks on site.

Someone also needs to ensure they complete their portfolio, witnessing their work and making sure it’s up to standard. If it isn’t right first time, a little constructive criticism and help in bringing it up to scratch is required so it can be signed it off.

“It can be tough for them, but we try and help them stick with it. We’ve had some who’ve had to go back and retake exams, but we don’t give up on them,” said Mr Franzmann.

Mutual benefit

As an apprentice learns and progresses, especially in their second and third years, they will become of more and more value to the business. There are tasks that they may be perfectly capable of doing on their own, leaving others to get on with their own work.

“Once they’ve gone through the initial stages, apprentices can become integral members of the company, who feel part of our team, and know the way we work,” said Mr Franzmann.

“As long as they’re staying with you and the quality of their work continues to improve, they are a benefit to the company full stop.”

The real value is when they progress from being simply an apprentice to being able to run a small job, accepting responsibility and taking pride in their work, he added.

“As long as you’ve offered them a job and treated them well, they’ll be loyal,” said Mr Franzmann. He even recounted times when apprentices have come back into work after hours to help fix a problem, because they enjoy the work and appreciate the opportunity they’ve been given.

JTL Training

While Hanover often takes on apprentices through direct contact with colleges, the company has also filled positions through JTL Training for a number of years.

JTL is a charity offering a number of services, which include advanced apprenticeships, training courses and NVQ assessments across four disciplines: electrical, plumbing, heating and ventilating, and engineering maintenance.

JTL will provide partner buinesses with a list of approved candidates, who have been properly assessed and have minimum standards of education, which the company can then interview from.

The charity also takes care of much of the associated paperwork, offers a financial support package, and assigns a training officer to each apprentice.

The training officer oversees everything from liaising with the college, to mentoring the apprentice and assessing their progress.

They will continue to meet with the business and be in contact via phone and email to walk them through the process, identifying the areas the learner needs to be trained in and offering advice.

“Our contacts at JTL are very good,” said Mr Franzmann. “They talk to us about any issues, and we work well together.

“It works because while we’re able to check the apprentices work onsite and sign off that they’ve completed it to the correct standards, we don’t have enough time to start checking over portfolios in more detail,” he added.

This is where a training officer can give the apprentice extra guidance and support, to make sure they complete their work to the best of their ability.

Future growth

While it does require a little forethought and preparation, Mr Franzmann says he would recommend taking on an apprentice to anyone.

“You get so much out of it,” he explained. “You do have to put in the effort with them, and they do become like your kids to a certain degree, but what you get out of it at the end of the day are loyal employees who will work hard.”

Having significantly grown the business through the number of people that have trained with the company and risen through its ranks, Hanover has a vested interest in the success of its apprentices. Mr Franzmann said that the company knows how important training is not only for the individuals and the company, but for the sector as a whole.

“If we can find the right people, we’ll keep on taking on apprentices every year,” he concluded.