16 Nov 2021

Meeting business challenges through growing and nurturing entry-level talent

Every few months, I have a catch-up with a friend who runs a creative agency. It would be a disservice to pigeon-hole him as simply a ‘creative type’. Yes, he’s much sought after for his creative skills but, more than that, he’s thoughtful (in the truest sense of the word) and has an ability to cut to the chase and see the overarching mission and message.

Over coffee recently, as we were discussing skills shortages and yawning gaps in some sectors, he used the phrase ‘head up’. It’s a great expression on various levels. On a personal one, it’s a challenge not to get dragged down by the minutia but rather see the true picture and wider context. On a professional one, it’s a call to have good perspective and vision. Furthermore, it’s about others – how they’re going, their successes and challenges.

Meeting the skills challenge

Workplus was borne out of listening to the successes and challenges of employers. The good news was that they were growing, the challenge was finding the right talent to meet the demand. In short, they were struggling to find entry level talent and were often disappointed by the quantity and quality of people coming into their sectors. For most, when they did hire new graduates they were frustrated by the level of re-training they had to do on the job. In a way, it wasn’t the graduate, college or university’s fault - it was just unrealistic to expect someone to apply their learning from three years ago to their work. The problem was systemic, but employers were paying for the failure to find a better approach.

Making it easier for employers

And so, I started to explore apprenticeships with a group of employers. We saw that apprenticeships could be a significant solution - learning and working in tandem rather than two separate phases, employer-led, moulding talent from day one and avoiding re-training costs. However, business leaders found the apprenticeship system confusing and hard to engage with. Those busy directors and HR professionals wanted to develop new talent but needed an easier way to build apprentices into their teams.

Since establishing Workplus, we’ve placed hundreds of apprentices with employers across Northern Ireland. Retention rates are sitting at around 95 per cent and employers tell us how apprentices have become an integral part of their build strategy.

It’s better to travel together!

Collaboration never promised to be easy but it is worth it. Apprenticeships are deeply collaborative, involving the employer, government and education providers.

Together we are working to improve the apprenticeship system – it’s new territory for most employers. Like any new adventure, it’s better to travel together! We know that core to success was to create a community of like-minded employers that can help each other explore apprenticeships, some for the first time. Our collaboration has resulted in new apprenticeship pathways being created as well as a groundswell of new opportunities.

Build strategy and future-proofing

As we emerge from the pandemic, nurturing entry level talent is a key component in growing the economy and meeting skills gaps. With apprenticeships, a person is given a job from the start, continued education and no student fees. They’re good news for young people but also those whose jobs have been impacted by the pandemic and are looking to retrain.

And so, as we move forward, let’s think about sowing the seeds of professionalism earlier and the implications of doing so – short-term it plugs the skills gaps and pushes new boundaries.  Longer term, it changes a culture and future-proofs growing sectors.

Richard Kirk is passionate about changing how our culture views apprenticeships. He started Workplus in 2016, to make it easier for employers to find apprentices. Richard will be speaking at the CIH All Ireland Summit on 19 January 2022.

Written by Richard Kirk

 By Richard Kirk is the CEO and founder of Workplus.