June 18, 2021

You’re hired! Why now’s the time to start an apprentice

Good for you, good for your new hire, good for Australia. Bringing a subsidised apprentice on board can be a winning trifecta – here’s how to get it right.

Your instant takeaway

  • Federal Government will pay 50% of apprentice or trainee wages for 12 months
  • Get up to $7,000 per quarter, with no cap on number of eligible new apprentices
  • IntoWork Australia Group CEO shares insights on starting an apprentice successfully

Could an extra pair of hands help take your small business to the next level?

If the answer is yes, there’s never been a better time to start working with an apprentice, with the Federal Government sweetening the deal for businesses that do so through a wage subsidy of up to 50 per cent for the first 12 months.

The Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements subsidy is available to eligible employers and group training organisations that engage an Australian apprentice or trainee before 31 March 2022. It’s worth up to $7,000 a quarter, per employee, and it’s prompting many businesses that haven’t hired an apprentice or trainee for a while, or which have never done so, to consider it.

But getting the best out of such an arrangement isn’t always straightforward, particularly if your new hire is fresh to the workforce and you’re not used to supervising workers who have lots to learn.

We asked Poul Bottern, Group CEO of training and employment group IntoWork Australia – the parent company of Apprentice Network Provider MAS National – to share his tips for businesses that want to make taking on a trainee or apprentice a win-win.

Rule of three to get it right

As is so often the case, it really does pay to get the basics right. As an employer, you’re responsible for three things, according to Bottern.

The first is to make sure your apprentice or trainee receives the hands-on training they need to become proficient in all aspects of the qualification they’re pursuing. In the first year or two, their capabilities may be limited but, as they progress, you need to set them more complex tasks to master.

“It’s up to you to provide them with the opportunity to learn the full trade over the life of the apprenticeship,” Bottern says. “Don’t just restrict them to basic duties.”

Second, you need to free them up to attend sessions with the training organisation that’s delivering the classroom component of their apprenticeship or traineeship.

And, third, it’s your job to ensure your apprentice or trainee is paid correctly.

Mind the generation gap

 Some employer-apprentice relationships go swimmingly from day one. Others can be a bit challenging or break down completely. Often when they do, unrealistic expectations are a factor.

“Some business owners might expect an apprentice to be able to come in and perform higher-level duties straightaway,” Bottern comments. “And if they run a business on their own, or with a couple of casuals, for example, they might not be used to supervising and managing someone constantly.

“We’ve seen employers become frustrated because they feel their apprentice doesn’t listen to them properly or isn’t following instructions. Sometimes, it’s about them having to learn to communicate more effectively or to get used to dealing with someone from another generation.”

School leavers may also need a little time to adjust to the demands of a 38-hour week.

“Just being there at a certain time every day, that’s a work routine we all build up,” Bottern says. “A bit of additional patience in the beginning can be critical.”

The devil’s in the detail

 Outlining your expectations upfront can get things off on the right foot. Don’t be afraid to go into detail, particularly if you’re dealing with someone who hasn’t worked before, Bottern advises. “Things like telling someone what time to arrive and when their breaks will be can make a big difference.”

Appointing a single individual to supervise and mentor your apprentice or trainee is also helpful. Ideally, as well as overseeing their work, they’ll talk to them about the more interesting aspects of the job they’ll be exposed to in the future.

“A plumbing apprentice, for example, might be digging trenches for the first few months, which isn’t very exciting, so it can help to point out that there are some good things coming up, down the track,” Bottern says.

Including your apprentice or trainee in team activities such as lunches and after work get-togethers allows them to feel connected to the business and their co-workers, even if there’s a significant age difference.

And, if issues arise, seeking support early can prevent them festering. Your Apprentice Network Provider can act as a sounding board and provide advice to both parties to help keep the arrangement on track.

Nation-building bonus

Business owners who take a chance on a trainee or apprentice aren’t just doing something positive for their own enterprises, they’re also providing a benefit to the economy and the country, according to NAB Small Business executive Ana Marinkovic.

“Getting more young Australians into skilled work boosts productivity and prosperity and, in the longer term, will help Australia to remain competitive,” Marinkovic says.

It can also be exciting and rewarding to share your hard-earned skills and experience with the next generation.

“It’s fulfilling for a business owner to be able to pass that onto somebody else, so it continues into the future,” Bottern says. “It’s an important and valuable part of what we can all give to young people as they come through. If we don’t and people just go, ‘it’s too hard, it’s easier to just get a labourer’, then eventually there won’t be enough people out there who are able to do many of the tasks that society requires.”

Taking the next step

 Keen to explore the idea of taking on an apprentice or trainee? An Apprenticeship Network Provider can help you get up and running with all the information you need.

There are a collection of seven organisations contracted by the Federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment to provide free advice and support to employers, apprentices and trainees nationwide. Australian Apprenticeships cannot commence until both parties have signed up with a provider, and businesses need to do so in order to claim the government’s wage subsidy.

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