How Apprentices and Interns helped me scale and grow my business, why I wish I'd employed more…and why I wish the Kickstart scheme was around then!

In our last blog four reasons to employ an Apprentice this summer.  We gave views from other people. This time I thought I would give my own personal experiences of hiring Apprentices.

My business partner and I were very lucky when we started our business in 2008.  We had a full order book turning over 60K in our first month but couldn’t invoice for six weeks as we were waiting for approval of our registration as a limited company.  We kept business expenditure low for the first year, the two of us working long hours, either networking or managing suppliers.

As a translation company, we worked with over 2000 international freelancers.  Managing multilingual projects meant we received around 40 invoices on a single project. This paperwork was taking me away from sales and my business partner away from operational development. As a result, we needed to expand our team.

We scaled up our multilingual team by developing relationships with two overseas universities. As a result, we had 2-3 interns a year.  The value they added was tremendous, and many of them stayed and established their careers with us or in London. At this time, we were outsourcing bookkeeping at a significant cost. We were also credit chasing and providing budget data to clients weekly, which was time-consuming.

A training provider called one day and explained how we could add value to our business by employing an Apprentice. So, we took on an Apprentice Accountant. At first, I was apprehensive about taking on someone without much experience, but this amazing young man took to our company and to QuickBooks immediately.   He learned quickly and added value through the knowledge he gained from his training, producing reports not only for our clients, but also management reports that we were paying our accountant to do (another saving). We took on another apprentice to manage incoming invoices and credit control. As a result, I don't think any of our clients went over 60-days.

So, we conserved cash by hiring apprentices, reducing our outsourcing, and our apprentices added value by improving cash flow and by giving us the time to focus on our business, not in it. Win/Win!

At that time (2010-2016), apprenticeship funding was not available for upskilling staff.  If this had been available, I would put all my teams on Apprenticeship courses, and they would have welcomed it. Also, there was no way near the 500 apprenticeship qualifications on offer today.

In 2014 automation and new tech were at the forefront of our minds.  Large global competitors were investing in developing machine and translation automation. We needed to adapt but did not want to invest tens and potentially hundreds of thousands in a software development team to create a solution that would also be costly to maintain.

This same year, with consolidation in our industry and Brexit looming (perhaps not so good for an SME in the translation business). We were receiving offers from interested companies. In 2016, we sold the business, and after the transition period, we left ten years to the day from start-up.  My business partner is now living in Sweden and turned his hobby of painting into a business.

After a year of early retirement and helping one of my boys into an Apprenticeship, and seeing how hard it was for him at first, I wanted to find a way to help others start their careers. The stars aligned, and I was lucky to come across Aspire to Learn, an apprentice training provider looking for someone to engage with employers and create opportunities for young talent. So, here I am today telling a story about how Apprentices helped me…and how they can help you.

There are many ways to add talent to a business and develop employees into experts in your sector.  Apprenticeships, upskilling key staff and The Kickstart Scheme are three great ways, and to my knowledge, the only ways that are government-funded and businesses get incentivised to hire and upskill staff. And it has never been easier. 

I have been working on the Kickstart Scheme, and whilst it's been a long process, its moving forward. Aspire to Learn, along with our clients, are giving young people the chance to gain skills to get into work.  Employers will then move them onto Apprenticeships. I interviewed a client this week who has an Apprentice and Kickstart employee; you can see what he had to say here.

The incentives for hiring apprentices and the funding for apprenticeship training has never been better. Hopefully, these increased incentives will be extended beyond September and the Kickstart scheme beyond December.

I would not change my path for a second, I am learning new things every day, and I am giving back in a small way. But, in writing this, looking back, I am asking myself this.  If the Digital, Software, Sales, Operational apprenticeship standards had been around then, along with the funding and the talented people who want to earn and learn.  Would I have hired Software Development Apprentices to develop our tech, would I have taken on more Sales Apprentices? Most definitely, they won't have changed the outcome to sell my business, but they would have, without a doubt, added value to it.

Helen is Employer Engagement Director at Aspire to Learn. Please get in touch with her for any information about Apprenticeships or The KicksStart Scheme or to find more about how we can help you scale up your business through apprenticehsip funding here.

Other articles that may be of interest

8 Steps to employing an Apprentice

How to manage 20% off-the-job training

Considerations for employers when deciding on Apprentice Wages

The difference between Kickstart and Apprenticeships

27 Jul 2021

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