For many trade businesses there comes a point when there’s more work on than one person, or your existing team, can handle. This is great news – it means your business and your skills are in demand. But not every client will be happy to wait months for your services.
With a worldwide trade skills shortage, finding a top-notch tradesperson can be a challenge. Often they’re already running their own business just like you are. That’s why many small business owners consider training a quality worker from scratch – by hiring an apprentice. Taking on any kind of new employee is a big step and apprenticeships come with responsibility, but don’t let that put you off.
Already got an apprentice lined up for an interview? Download our interview question template to make sure you find out what you need to know.
- 1. Knowing when you’re ready to hire
- 2. Your obligations when hiring an apprentice
- 3. Apprenticeship law by country
- 4. Attract top talent with a quality job listing
- 5. Advertising for an apprentice
- 6. Shortlisting apprentice candidates – what to look for
- 7. Job skills and personality traits to look for in an apprentice
- 8. How to interview an apprentice
- 9. Mistakes to avoid when hiring an apprentice
- 10. Hire an apprentice, grow your trade business
1. Knowing when you’re ready to hire
Having good workers you can rely on leads to more profit, a safer work environment – and more fun. A great employee can transform your trade business, while a bad egg can ruin your reputation.
The great thing about taking on apprentices is that you can train them to work the way you want them to. They don’t come with any historical habits or attitudes around ‘the way they used to do things’.
So, is there a right time to hire an apprentice?
First – if you can’t afford to pay an apprentice (more on wages soon), then it makes sense to wait until you can. However, if the work is flowing in and you need an extra pair of hands to take on more work, then hiring an apprentice could be the next best step for you.
Many governments currently offer support for trade business owners to lighten the financial load of taking on an apprentice.
2. Your obligations when hiring an apprentice
The advantages of hiring apprentices are fairly obvious. They’re often full of energy and eager to learn, and you’ll also gain an extra pair of working hands. But there are certain obligations you need to meet as an employer when taking them on.
Here are the main things to consider:
- Training and accreditation requirements - You are responsible for teaching and training apprentices in the correct way so they’re able to work competently and professionally.
- Employment rights - Apprentices are entitled to the same minimum rights and protections under employment and health-and-safety law as all other employees.
- Paying the correct wage - You are required to pay your apprentice appropriately. In most countries, there is a minimum training wage for apprentices (which can be different from minimum wage rates).
- Recognition and reward - Apprentices are there to do their jobs and get their qualifications. That means you need to play your part by assessing their work so they can get the credit for it.
3. Apprenticeship law by country
You also need to consider any country-specific regulations around hiring an apprentice. These could even differ between states, so make sure you research your local laws around hiring employees.
UK apprenticeship laws
- You must pay your apprentice at least the minimum wage.
- In addition to on-the-job training, all apprentices must be enrolled in an apprentice training programme with a training organisation.
Australian apprenticeship laws
- You must pay your apprentice according to trainee pay rates.
- In addition to on-the-job training, all apprentices must be enrolled in an apprentice training programme with a Registered Training Organisation.
New Zealand apprenticeship laws
- You must pay your apprentice at least the minimum wage.
- In addition to on-the-job training, all apprentices must be enrolled in a New Zealand Qualification Authority (NZQA) approved programme and registered with an Industry Training Organisation.
USA apprenticeship laws
- You must pay your apprentice at least the minimum wage.
- There are two apprenticeship programmes available: Registered Apprenticeship Program or Industry-Recognised Apprenticeship Program.
There are several funding options available for US employers who choose to take on an apprentice.
4. Attract top talent with a quality job listing
There’s a shortage of good tradespeople. With fewer and fewer people entering the trades, plus an ageing workforce, businesses often struggle to find the staff to expand their operations.
There are eager apprentices out there, but you’ll need a smart job listing to find them. Be sure to also include instructions on how the apprentice candidate should apply. Emailing through a cover letter and CV is the basic standard.
Here are our top tips for creating a job ad that stands out from all the others.
Lead with an intriguing or funny headline
While ‘APPRENTICE WANTED’ will probably work, it’s not going to turn heads or get people excited. Apprentices can choose to work with anyone they like, so pushing the boat out just a little – or a lot – will do wonders. Add personality to your job listing by highlighting an interesting aspect of the job or your team culture.
Tell them a bit about your company – and any incentives
Give your future apprentice a picture of what it’s like to work at your company, and how you operate. You want to hire people who have the same values and work ethic as you, so put it in writing. Don’t forget to mention any other incentives you think might win someone over.
List exactly what type of person you’re looking for
For most jobs, a minimum level of experience is required. But with apprenticeships training happens on the job. Mention any specific personality traits you think will be a good match for your team.
Cover what a typical day might look like
Describes the various tasks and responsibilities an apprentice will experience on a normal day. Be sure to include benefits like if you take the team out for lunch once a month, or shout some beers on Fridays.
Career and leadership opportunities
It’s surprising how many businesses skip this step, but it’s important to many aspiring tradespeople, especially apprentices. You may have to consider the business structure you’re working towards, as these roles might not exist in your company yet. But that shouldn’t stop you from mentioning opportunities in your ad.
5. Advertising for an apprentice
If a single listing on a job website isn’t working, you may need to advertise to attract the right apprentice. Just like you would cast your net far and wide to advertise your trade business, the same applies to a job listing.
Here are some options:
Update your website
Think about putting a ‘We’re hiring’ note on your website. Add a summary about who you’re looking for, or a link to your job listing, and details how they can get in touch.
Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn – the works. Post a status update: you’re looking for someone with the right attitude who’s willing to work hard, and you’ll teach them all they need to know. Be sure to include your contact details in the post.
Leverage your associations
If you’re a trade association member, get in touch with your nearest regional rep and explain what you’re looking for. Much like supplier reps, they’re out and about all over the region and have great networks.
Online apprenticeship boards
Governments and training organisations around the world are determined to get more people into trade apprenticeships. Simply put, there’s too much work and not enough hands. Many have partnered to create apprentice-specific portals for employers to recruit from.
- UK: Recruit an apprentice
- Australia: SkillsRoad, Apprenticeship Support Australia, Group Training Organisation
- New Zealand: Industry Training Organisations, CompeteNZ
- USA: Apprenticeship.gov
6. Shortlisting apprentice candidates – what to look for
When it comes to hiring, a reliable person with the right attitude who wants to get stuck in is all you need. You can teach the rest.
Depending on how many applications you receive, you may need to choose a shortlist of candidates to interview. Luckily, there’s a lot you can tell about a person from a CV.
Here are some pointers for narrowing down your applicants:
- Take a good look at their work history - Apprentices probably won’t have a huge amount of experience, but there’s still plenty you can glean from their previous jobs.
- The length of their employment - The longer they’re in a job, generally the more loyal and dedicated they’ll be. There are exceptions, but if they haven’t lasted longer than six months anywhere else – it could be a red flag.
- The reputation of previous employers - Look at who the applicant has worked for previously – if the company is reputable, chances are your applicant will be too. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have hired them.
- Volunteer work - This is a telling revelation about character. If they’re willing to give back to others or the community, then it’s likely they’ll have a positive attitude to work and be a good addition to your team.
- Jump on the phone and have a chat - An easy way to test whether your applicants meet the mark is by having a chat. Calling them is a two-fold test: an initial screening to see if it's worth getting them in for an interview, and a test of their customer skills on the phone.
7. Job skills and personality traits to look for in an apprentice
Apprentices with existing skills are great, but many have zero experience. Thankfully job skills can be taught, but personality traits are harder to change. You’ll want to keep an eye out for both when hiring an apprentice. Below is an outline of the different skills and traits you can assess each person by.
- Essential skills - These are the technical trade skills necessary for completing regular jobs. Apprentices might not have all these skills yet, but a basic understanding of what’s involved will show they’ve done their research at least.
- Customer skills - These are skills your employees use on the job that encourage repeat business and increase the likelihood of word-of-mouth referrals. Being polite will go a long way.
- Sales skills - These help you acquire new customers or produce cross-selling opportunities when on-site, for instance, identifying additional work that may need doing soon.
- Initiative - This means being proactive – seeing a job that needs doing and doing it. If you find people like this, it’s a huge YES to hiring – even if they don’t have as many skills as others.
Key personality traits
- Integrity - If you’re ever going to trust new people, they need to demonstrate integrity. Anyone with a history of violence or theft will struggle to pass this test. Good background and reference checks should uncover any issues here.
- Reliability - You want someone who you know will show up every day without fail (except when they are unwell, of course). A reference check should sort this out, as well as being on time for an interview!
- Physicality - A fit person will outperform someone in poor shape, as most trades require lots of physical work. An apprentice with an interest in their own health & fitness will make an energized and capable worker.
- Safety - No one wants to get hurt on the job or work with someone reckless or careless. Health and safety are critical parts of any trade business, so you need people who take the matter seriously and won’t cut corners.
- Willingness - Are they energetic, willing and able to work throughout the day? Effort can overcome skill, but if they won’t put in a full day’s work – they shouldn’t make the cut.
When in doubt, use your instincts
Like with many things in life, your instincts about a person should serve you well. After going through this shortlisting process, you should have a fairly good indication of who you want to interview – and subsequently hire.
8. How to interview an apprentice
It’s funny how interviewing people can be almost as nerve-wracking as being interviewed yourself – especially if it’s your first time.
We sat down with over 20 trade business owners to see how they hire (and keep) world-class tradespeople. Here’s what they had to say.
Keep it informal and ensure they’re relaxed
Interviews can often feel like a bit of a formal procedure, so why not choose an informal setting? Chatting on-site or at a café can help take the awkwardness out of the situation for both of you. Help your potential apprentice relax by making small talk about some of the hobbies or interests they mentioned in their cover letter or CV.
Have a policy on personality
Running a trade business is a bit like managing a sports team – everyone needs to be focused and committed to the game plan. Having people on your team who are arrogant and keep putting themselves first is a recipe for disaster.
They’re likely to have a negative impact on the morale of your team. Even if they’re very talented, sometimes it's better in the long run to avoid hiring them.
Be a great listener
You’re going to ask a lot of questions, probing potential employees to see if they’ll be a good fit for your business. So ask, listen, ask something else and listen some more. Keep an ear open for what is both said and unsaid. If they try to skirt around a question, follow it up with a direct question to get the answer you're looking for.
See how they respond in certain situations
For people with limited experience, use behavioural questions to see how they approach various situations. This is a really good way to see if they show initiative, one of the standout characteristics you should look for in anyone you hire.
Closing the interview
Before the interview ends, there’s one more way to test them for initiative. Ask them to follow up on something later – for instance, emailing you photos of their latest DIY home project. This is a good way to see if they’re the kind of person who forgets, or actually follows through.
Nail the interview – free resource for trade business owners
To help you find the right person for the job, we’ve put together a list of 10 interview questions you should be asking – and what to listen out for in their responses.
9. Mistakes to avoid when hiring an apprentice
Hiring is hard, even if you’ve done it before. Thankfully it’s like many things — you live and you learn. But it's a lot easier to avoid problems if you know what to watch out for in the first place. Here's a list of mistakes to avoid when hiring an apprentice.
Hiring too quickly
Maybe you’ve just won some new business and need manpower, or perhaps your top tradesperson has just resigned. Whatever the reason you’re hiring, never jump straight into hiring mode.
You need to step back and make sure you know exactly what your business is, that your business is an attractive place to work at, and who exactly is the right person to hire. If you fail to do this, chances are you could hire the wrong person, which might even put you in an even worse situation than when you started out.
Hiring someone with the conflicting values
This often happens as a result of jumping straight into the hiring process. You need to determine what kind of company you want to be or who each of your applicants really are.
This may not always surface itself straight away either. Problems could arise in the weeks or months following their start. To overcome this, ask the right questions during the interview phase. Also, remember to contact their previous bosses or references for feedback on how they handled themselves at work.
Not paying enough or having no incentives
You’re probably aware of the tradesperson shortage that’s happening at the moment. This is great for excellent workers as they know they’re in demand and are much more selective in where they work. Even good apprentices may find higher-paying roles in jobs that desperately need staff.
To make your business successful, you need to offer decent wages plus consider incentives such as:
- Shouting food & drinks after completing big jobs
- No mandatory overtime or weekend work
- Regular work events or trips
Giving no direction of where the job could lead to.
Have you had a great employee in your business only to have them resign out of the blue? Chances are they didn’t have a clear idea of where they could progress to or grow within your company. Thankfully, this is a really easy fix. It’s just a matter of sitting down with each of your employees and ask them what they’re hoping to achieve in their career and where they want to be in several years’ time.
Once you know where your staff want to be, put in place some goals and milestones to hit, that tie into your business. If your staff know that you're invested in them, they're less likely to leave.
Only asking direct questions
Direct questions are those asked to receive a particular response - i.e. what do you like about your trade? While direct questions are useful, you need to ask behavioural questions too, which help you see how a person behaves or responds in a certain situation.
For instance: "You’re working on a job when a customer comes to check on progress. They flip out and lose their cool when they see you've placed your not-so-dirty toolbox on their carpet. You think they're over-reacting, but they're serious. What would you do?"
Hiring at the wrong time
Measure twice, cut once. It’s a saying that we’ve all been reminded of in the past, which rings true for hiring as well as when on the tools. While there’s always a reason for rushing, it rarely ends well. When you rush hiring someone you can’t be sure you’re hiring the best person for the job, just the best person you come across in your short search.
Taking an always-hiring mentality, you can always be on the look for great staff. When you find one, you might not have the workload to completely cover their salary initially, but having the extra capacity means you can look for or bring on more work to pay for the difference (and then some).
Not having an onboarding process
While it may seem like something you'd do while surfing or fishing, onboarding is a crucial step many tradespeople fail to do. Onboarding is the process of getting your employees up to speed as quickly as possible. You'll need a plan in place outlining the apprentice's first few weeks on the job. This will help them become much more useful, much more quickly.
10. Hire an apprentice, grow your trade business
Apprentices are a terrific way to grow your trade business. They can help you expand your work capacity and you’ll also get the satisfaction of shaping the future leaders of your trade industry. First, understand your obligations for training and educating. Then you can do your due diligence to find an apprentice who is willing to work hard and a good fit for your business. Get things right and it’s a win-win situation for you both.
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