Why apprenticeships are great for startups

You might be going it alone right now, but at some point, if you want your business to expand, you're likely to take on your first hire. And with the government having invested over £1 billion on various kick-starts, initiatives, grants and tax breaks on schemes designed to promote apprenticeships, it's definitely worth considering taking on someone to train.

Despite their relatively low salary expectations, taking on an apprentice isn't about cheap labour - it's give and take, and it should be a mutually beneficial relationship. Employers have a responsibility to train and teach apprentices to help shape their career, and apprentices have a responsibility to listen, learn, and work hard. And aside from the positive impact on your business, you also have the satisfaction of supporting the future of your own industry by training up the next generation - especially relevant to startups working in niche and traditional industries.

Matt Goolding is Head of Digital Marketing at Ribbonfish, a London-based tech company that build Salesforce solutions and enterprise apps for businesses in the UK and USA. Ribbonfish regularly take on apprentices, with many having become key long-term members of the team. Here he talks about the benefits of hiring apprentices for your startup or SME.

Fresh thinking

They say there's no substitute for experience. Perhaps not, but the negative connotations associated with naivety can be overplayed. Without a safe zone and the burden of experience, apprentices are able to see your business and its processes in a fresh light, with little field of reference. Whilst this will often lead to boundless and unrealistic optimism, it can also highlight the 'why not?' areas of potential for your organisation.

Young people are wonderfully creative. This creativity can be applied to their everyday tasks, but also to the wider marketing of your business. With apprentices, you have the chance to build a whole new team of enthusiastic brand advocates that will promote the great work you do as a team.


These fresh thinkers should be listened to, and their critiques noted. As a manager or business owner, you can gain a lot of insight from people by having an informal, off-the-record, and honest chat with apprentices and junior staff. Some will be more forthcoming than others, but these individuals will likely offer suggestions for improvement that won't ever have entered your cranium.

Apprentices can spot tension areas, and will directly experience inefficiencies in communication from management and senior team members. Younger members of the team are also usually more au fait with the latest consumer technologies, some of which could be applied to your business to maximise productivity; instant messaging, cloud storage, task management apps, and much more.

Whilst apprentices might not have all the answers, they can spot areas where you're going wrong.


Apprentices can breathe new energy into your organisation, both through their work rate and their willingness to drag the old fogies to the pub on a Friday lunchtime. Discipline is important, and no doubt you'll have to instil the occasional office rule to prevent pure anarchy, but having a vibrant and energetic workplace is something that improves quality of work and increases staff retention. A stale and stagnant office won't inspire much positivity, so it's important to let your apprentices help to shape the culture of our company and its working space.

Teach to learn

There's no better way to solidify your knowledge than to pass it on to others. Senior team members have a wealth of experience locked away in their brains, and teaching junior members of the team can unlock this expertise in new ways.

Apprentices might ask questions that experienced staff won't have thought about for years, bringing them right back to basics and allowing them to reassess their habits. Furthermore, plenty of questions flying around the office means that the team are engaging with each other, and can therefore build closer relationships.

Shaping the future

You can never guarantee that all apprentices will go on to stay with your organisation for the long haul, but you can certainly do your best to keep the most talented. There will always be a period of learning the basics at the beginning, but you'll soon pick out the future stars and start to prepare them for more responsibility in the future.

The key here - as with all internal business operations - is good communication. Regularly asking your apprentices about their personal goals and aspirations will help you cater for them as they grow their skill set and experience, and retain them in the long run.

Hiring an apprentice

For information about hiring an apprentice go to the Gov.UK website, where you can learn how to get a grant and make an apprenticeship agreement.

Grants and incentives

  • You could get a £1,500 apprenticeship grant if you have less than 50 employees and your apprentice is aged 16 to 24 - and you can claim support for up to 5 apprentices. To get started, you can enquire here.
  • If you're also providing formal study for your apprentice, you can apply for funding to cover the costs of their qualification. This is variable on age, with 16-18s eligible for the full costs of qualifications such as higher diplomas and A-levels, moving down to contributions for mature students (aged 24 or above). To get started, you can enquire here.
  • Businesses won't have to pay National Insurance contributions on apprenticeships under the age of 25 (unless they're earning over £815 a week, the upper limit) from April 2016 - saving your business money.

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