Should you recruit a marketer’s apprentice?

Hiring talent through non-traditional routes can be challenging but marketing teams are reaping the rewards.

Princes Trust apprentice

National Apprenticeship Week, which took place last month, aims to help young people into work who have not gone into further education, and so-called ‘white collar’ enterprises are becoming more involved in such schemes. The marketing sector, for example, which was once thought of as purely a graduate-level entry career or intern opportunity, is now opening its doors to apprentices.

For instance Lloyds Banking Group and EE are among the employers pledging a total of 20,000 positions – in roles of all types – in 2014, hiring 5,000 and 1,000 apprentices respectively.

The Government estimates that apprentices contributed £1.8bn to the UK economy in 2013, so can marketers mine this non-traditional resource with genuine benefit to the bottom line?

“Companies taking on apprentices do get a young person who has passed selection criteria, is going through formal learning and also working as an additional person in a team,” says Sherilyn Shackell, founder of The Marketing Academy.

The Marketing Academy recently piloted its Merlin’s Apprentice scheme in whichapprentices were placed with brands to work for a set period while also achieving the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s introduction Certificate in Marketing. Although the employer wouldusually be responsible for the apprentice’s salary, The Marketing Academy is looking to raise funding from sponsors to pay apprentices itself.

“We were keen to give an opportunity to a Trust-supported young person. University degrees are not the be-all and end-all”

“Big brands want to do something but a big, sophisticated blue chip isn’t necessarily geared up to take on someone for whom it is their first time working in an office,” Shackell explains.

“Our host companies tend to be large charities or social enterprises or SMEs thatare better set up to cater for the needs of a young adult from a challenging background with no work experience. Big brands may be donating philanthropically but they are able to state that they are supporting the next generation of talent pipeline.”

The Merlin’s Apprentice scheme is fundraising for its next phase of apprenticeships and hopes to raise £1m by the end of the year, which would provide placements for about 50 apprentices in the marketing sector.

The Prince’s Trust senior head of marketing Laura Coyle says: “We had never had apprentices before so didn’t know what to expect. “We were keen to give an opportunity to a Trust-supported young person. University degrees aren’t the be all and end all for getting great people into work.”

Teenagers estate
The Prince’s Trust is keen to support young apprentices and help them with CVs and job applications

Increasing diversity

For some, bringing in apprentices is a way to access a more diverse pool of talent. This is particularly important for organisations whose business needs to be accessible to the entire UK population, such as the publicly-funded BBC .

“The BBC needs to reflect and reach all of us. It would be odd if our employees weren’t similarly diverse. We recognise we need to get talent from whatever sources we can,” says Philip Almond, BBC director of marketing and audiences.

The BBC has partnered with the Stephen Lawrence Trust to attract people from minority backgrounds and is also working with disability groups to ensure it has a diverse source of recruits.

Apprentices come to companies through varied routes, with many particularly engaged young people simply seeking out companies they want to work for. Nicola Hart, BSkyB’s head of future talent, says: “We’ve sourced people through the National Apprentice Service, our own corporate site, the Sky Academy as well as working in partnership with Jobs4U. But we find engaging directly with applicants at our open days is the most effective.”

Vanguard Healthcare, an SME focusing on niche healthcare provision, hired Lawrence Parkin as an apprentice. “At first I thought apprenticeships were for engineering. I didn’t realise there was anything within business but I went on to some websites, searched, and applied,” says Parkin.

Vanguard marketing manager Richard Cluett adds: “We wanted someone with a fresh slate but who was keen to pursue marketing so we could mould them into the person we were looking for. It’s win-win because we also have a lot to gain. The more we looked into it and built up a relationship with the local college we realised that there was as much to gain from an apprentice as taking on a full-time employee.”

Sky apprentice
At Sky, all apprentices are on a permanent contract but there are opportunities for long-term careers

Learning on the job

A key differentiator between apprentices and interns besides salary and length of tenure, is that the majority are entered into formal training that runs concurrently to doing the job.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) teamed up with the Public Relations and Communications Association to engage three apprentices for its ‘Creative Process’ scheme. Apprentices follow a course provided by companies such as PromoVeritas, comprising 28 learning units of which 14 are mandatory and include topics such as researching and analysing data and planning budgets. By the end of the 18-month placement, the apprentice will have work experience under their belt but also a level four diploma in public relations.

“One of our policies is that vocational skills stand alongside academic knowledge,” says BIS director of communications Russell Grossman. “Employers should encourage talent; apprentices should be better and more skilled for being here. Otherwise all you’ve done is employ labour that applies [for a job] on the day and isn’t necessarily right [because the applicants haven’t had the training an apprentice would].”

Although it takes more effort to develop an apprentice than an employee sourced from more traditional routes, the effort can reap benefits.

Vanguard’s Cluett says: “We wanted this to be a learning experience for both of us. I had just moved into a more senior role, so it was an opportunity for me to learn about the managing aspect as well as for Lawrence to take ownership of his own career development.”

Sky’s Hart says: “We work closely with line managers to make sure that they’re capable of taking on young people and helping them understand the challenges. We have to be really careful about the content in marketing – there are certain campaigns young people can’t work on.”

Employers point out that apprentices have real, hands-on work to do during their placements and are no longer in charge of ‘making the tea’.

“We had a fixed idea in our mind that Lawrence would be looking after events management. He is now looking after both UK and European events and has dealt with a portfolio of around 14 exhibitions. We have made sure he’s embraced all aspects of the marketing function,” says Cluett.

A rosy future?

The majority of apprentices are on fixed contracts and for some this is just as well. Although the brands mentioned above feel positive about engaging apprentices, they note that despite a selection process geared to identifying those with a passion for the discipline, some apprentices conclude that marketing is not for them.

For the most part however, the ultimate aim for these apprentices is to secure future roles in marketing. All those involved note the importance of helping their apprentices manage the transition into future roles.

“We helped our apprentice compile their CV and apply for jobs outside The Prince’s Trust,” Coyle says. “But we weren’t able to offer them an opportunity in the business. If they had shown a real passion for marketing, we would have used our corporate network to see if we could get an opportunity for them but as a small team, places don’t come up often.”

For others, particularly SMEs such as Vanguard, the apprenticeship is a case of wait and see. So far, Parkin appears to have impressed Cluett and there are hints that a permanent place awaits him at the end. At Sky, all apprentices are on a permanent contract. The recruitment process starts out in the apprenticeship format but the opportunity to turn it into a long-term career at Sky is for the candidate to capitalise on.

Three major challenges

1. Selection

There can be an element of risk in engaging people aged 16 to 21 as apprentices. People applying for apprenticeships can have little experience of the workplace and may have a lower than normal support network at home, expectations have to be managed on both sides.

Even with rigorous interviewing and analysis of the candidate’s personality, their professed passion for marketing and the corporate environment, an apprentice may not last the 12-month course.

2. Support and training

Relationships between the managers within the business and the educational support outside is key. For the majority of apprentices, they will be taking time out of the working week (usually one day) to complete educational tasks.

For larger companies, ensuring that the dealings with course providers are both beneficial and appropriate in terms of time devoted is important. “Try to minimise the number of third parties involved. Five or six is too many, rather find just two or three that can meet your requirements across all business areas,” advises Nicola Hart, head of future talent at satellite broadcaster Sky.

3. Allocating resources

Director of communications at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Russell Grossman notes that to accommodate an apprentice, the unit had to do “creative budgeting” to find a salary.

Other schemes such as the Marketing Academy’s Merlin’s Apprentice scheme do not have that concern, however managing time as well as input from other team members with their own workload is just as important.

Apprenticeships in action


Neron Turner-Power  

Talk Talk apprentice, now junior producer at youth engagement agency Livity

Neron Turner-Power

The apprenticeship was an amazing experience. I met so many inspiring people. Going to Google for part of the scheme enabled me to learn so much from specialists. During my apprenticeship with Talk Talk they learned that my hobby was video production after seeing some of the things I had done on YouTube.

My line manager understood the sort of person I am and had the confidence to put me in front of the companies that were engaged to revamp the blog and let me talk to them about how the layout should be, letting me plan and arrange meetings.

Abi Jenkins

Google apprentice, now account executive, digital marketing, Livity

Having left university early through illness, I found myself at the Job Centre being told I was both over and under qualified. At a Channel 4 media careers open day I met with [agency] Livity and applied for their apprentice scheme.

My experience as an apprentice at Google was incredibly immersive. I attended meetings and it was refreshing to be asked my opinion. I really enjoyed being able to sit alongside experienced people, who accepted that I was at the start of my journey but on the same path as them.

My biggest learning was confidence – you don’t want to mess up Google. My line manager was there to help and she was invested in answering questions. It was a personal challenge rather than a work-related one.”

Tom Murray

British Gas apprentice, now CMS editor, British Gas Digital

I wasn’t enjoying my course at college so looked for a change. The digital marketing programme sponsored by Google [that agency Livity places people in before they do a full apprenticeship] sounded perfect. After completing it I worked at British Gas for a year in the corporate responsibility team developing intranet pages and reporting on website performance. I’ve had the opportunity to network with successful people and learned that networks will get you far.

If you don’t have a degree, you’re overlooked for most things. Being able to do two real projects during the pre-apprenticeship stage showed that the work I did meant something. Doing a NVQ marketing qualification in addition to a full-time job was difficult. I left college to get away from studying. It’s good to now have a qualification but I prefer learning on the job.”


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