On top of the well known advantages businesses gain when they hire an apprentice, there are also plenty of hidden benefits which only begin to take shape once you actually start working with one yourself. In this article, we’ll uncover some of the lesser known benefits that can be achieved when hiring an apprentice developer for SMEs.
This article, at a glance
If you’re in a hurry, the seven hidden benefits an apprentice developer can bring to SMEs are:
➡️ Better staff retention
➡️ Existing staff gaining managerial experience
➡️ Existing staff gaining teaching and mentoring experience
➡️ Freeing up additional time for your best developers
➡️ Greater team culture and core skills
➡️ Improved documentation
➡️ And more incentives to follow best practices.
Skip ahead to read our detailed exploration of each one, or come back when you have more time to learn more about how these benefits can have a positive impact on your own team!
How do apprenticeships work?
When your business hires an apprentice, they’ll split their time between working in a certain role for you whilst studying for a formal qualification related to that role. Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to build extra capacity in your workforce, and also to help people get the experience and skills they need to launch their career.
Until recently, apprenticeships have been viewed as alternative routes into employment for young people leaving school. However, they’re now receiving much wider recognition for the excellent career path they offer. In the near future, apprenticeships will be available to train for everything from a software developer to a GP, with apprentices earning qualifications, getting practical experience, and making an income at the same time.
Many companies we work with have told us they think apprenticeships are actually a preferable route into employment over studying full-time for a degree and then looking for a job. This is because competitive job roles - such as web and app development, for example - are increasingly looking for real-world skills over formal theory-based education.
Apprenticeships are not just for school leavers, as more and more adults are now becoming highly capable apprentices to make a career change.
Over the past few years, apprenticeships have become increasingly common for people in higher age groups. In fact, this time last year, 61.6% of all apprenticeship starts in the UK were made by learners aged 25 and over.
Why should businesses consider apprenticeships?
You may think taking on an apprentice developer isn't worth the commitment or extra responsibility, as that’s a common misconception among SMEs.
Yes, you’ll need to onboard them, manage them, train them, and pay them, and you may not feel you can spare the time or the resources to do so. But many of those problems solve themselves when you gain a clear understanding how apprentices actually deliver a return on your investment fast.
Most notably, taking on an apprentice allows you to achieve the same benefits of gaining an additional team member at a significantly lower cost. The government pays 95% of the apprenticeship training costs, and you’ll also receive up to £4,000 in additional funding for each apprentice you hire, making it a very cost-effective, worthwhile investment.
Some of the other more popular advantages an apprentices can deliver include:
✅ A new team member who is more eager and more hungry to learn
✅ Cognitive diversity and a fresh perspective from someone with no bad habits
✅ Someone trained in the specific skills, languages, and frameworks your team actually uses.
The hidden benefits of hiring an apprentice
What you’ll also find is that, once you’ve gone through the experience of working with an apprentice for the first time, you’ll begin to uncover a number of hidden benefits which add even greater value to their team as a whole.
The lesser known, often hidden benefits of hiring an apprentice for SMEs are:
💡 Better staff retention - We’ve found that apprentices who are successfully trained, and who have a positive experience within the business, end up becoming far more loyal. They often feel compelled to give back to the company that gave them their opportunity and invested in their development as an employee.
It’s common that apprentices who pass their qualification and move into a permanent job tend to stick around for longer, whereas more experienced employees find it easier to jump from role to role chasing higher salaries.
💡 Existing members of your team will gain good managerial experience - Often in smaller tech teams the best developer will get made into the Tech Lead by default, regardless of their leadership or management qualities.
Sometimes this is a bad fit for the team as a whole, sometimes this can create extra workload for someone who isn’t suited to it, and sometimes it can leave other employees with greater management potential under-utilised.
But having an apprentice will require different members of the team to take on various leadership responsibilities too. Not only is this good experience for them, but it can also uncover hidden skills and highlight new assets for your business moving forward.
💡 Existing members of your team will gain teaching and mentor experience - A crucial part of an apprenticeship is learning on the job. This will create the opportunity for different members of your team to teach and mentor them. That will afford your staff new perspectives on how to communicate with others, improve their own dev skills by teaching them, and even help improve their fundamental skills by going back and re-learning things they don’t usually practice.
💡 It will free up time for your more talented employees - Your most skilled employees are often the ones you pay the most, so you don’t want them wasting time on low-level tasks or admin. By introducing an apprentice into your team, it will free up time and ensure that your most talented developers are spending their hours on more creative and challenging tasks.
💡 Your team will improve core skills and greater cultural diversity - Without getting caught up in the stereotype of a reclusive developer shut away writing code for hours on end, it’s undeniable that anyone who can bring enthusiasm into any working environment will be a valuable addition. An apprentice will bring new qualities to the business which will improve the team as a whole, as your existing employees can learn from the apprentice to improve their own core skills as well.
It’s also becoming increasingly common for adults who are changing careers to go down the apprenticeship route. If you have someone with 10 years' experience in the retail sector, for example, joining your team as a developer apprentice, it’s inevitable that they’ll bring transferable skills and fresh approaches in key areas like client relationship management and communication.
💡 It will encourage you to improve and bolster your documentation - We'll all agree most developers are notoriously bad at keeping documentation, but apprentices will need this to help their onboarding, allow them to follow the correct processes, and help them understand why things are done a certain way.
This is a great incentive to update your documentation, which often gets ignored when you have an established and settled team. Once you have your full written processes in place, the apprentice can then be the one to make sure that your standards for documentation are maintained and everything is kept up-to-date moving forward.
💡 It will encourage your team to follow processes and best practices - Similar to what we said above, by having a new team member who is learning from scratch, your other devs will need to make extra effort to stop taking risky shortcuts and stick to the script more often. This is important as your apprentice will need to learn how to do things properly based on best practices and the correct processes.
This is a great chance to review your code standards and ensure they're being followed by all developers within the business. If the apprentice is doing these things then the rest of the team will naturally follow suit, as they will be working closely together and supporting each other.
Is hiring an apprentice right for you?
These are the kind of things that we rarely have time to actively work on with such busy workloads to worry about, but when they all begin to fall into place they can have an enormous impact on the efficiency and quality of your team’s work.
You probably don’t have the time or headspace to proactively address all these gaps, but bringing in an apprentice is an excellent way to not only address them, but ensure they're filled for the long-term.
If you've found the challenges and opportunities mentioned here resonate strongly with your current situation, and a developer apprenticeship is something you’d like to learn more about for your own business, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and a member of our team will be happy to chat.
We’ve been working with SMEs for almost 10 years, helping mentor their talented apprentices, as we believe that digital skills training is the key to unlocking the full potential of the technology industry for the future.
In that time, we’ve seen apprentices make significant differences to the teams they’ve joined, improving quality of work, contributing new ideas, and bolstering output, all while learning as they go. To learn more about the ways in which we work with SMEs to create bespoke programmes which deliver on specific business needs, read our article here for additional info.