• What’s it like to be an HR apprentice?

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  • 18 Mar 2016
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Nomura and TfL share their first-hand experiences as interest in HR apprenticeships picks up

National Apprenticeship Week has turned the spotlight on the benefits of offering apprenticeships, including the incentives available to employers. But the idea that apprentices are all engaged in engineering or front-line roles can be misleading – across the UK, there is a growing number of young people undertaking HR apprenticeships, which were formally introduced in 2014.

Investment bank Nomura is one of the early adopters. It first began investigating apprenticeships three years ago through its technology department, when the HR function decided to "practise what it preached", says Gareth Lloyd, vice president HR adviser. The HR department initially took on two apprentices, which then increased to four.

Two of the first apprentices, Georgina Deacon and Hannah O'Donoghue, have now completed their two-year higher apprenticeship in human resource management and been awarded a CIPD level 5 diploma in applied human resources. Both have been offered full-time positions within the bank's HR department.

"In their first four to eight weeks they had zero experience in HR and were really shadowing us. In effect, they were no different to other people who come into a firm completely cold," says Lloyd.

"In the early days, it was definitely more us giving to them in terms of time, experience and knowledge, but they quickly moved away from that – much quicker than I ever anticipated."

Deacon began as an apprentice in Nomura's advisory team, and is now an HR adviser at the company. Her highest qualification before the apprenticeship was A-levels.

"Without a degree, it was difficult to find anything I could grow into as a career and that is when I looked into apprenticeships,” she says. “My idea of apprenticeships at the time was that they were for vocational work and something you did if you hadn't done A-levels." She began working on occupational health-related tasks, she says, and is now involved with the employee relations team.

O'Donoghue is now an analyst in the HR solutions team and will soon be moving into graduate recruitment. "I was the first year of university fees going up to £9,000, so I started looking at sponsored degrees and it was on a sponsored degree website that I found a job being advertised for Nomura," she says.

When she told her parents and friends, they were worried she was wasting her time: "Apprenticeships are still considered by some people to be what you do if you have no GCSEs. Then we came in and weren’t treated differently to anyone else who works here – we weren't given the printing to do, it was an opportunity to come in as if you were a graduate. I am so much further ahead than my friends who are finishing uni this summer."

The majority of apprenticeships in business and administration already include modules on HR, but in 2014 the CIPD – working in conjunction with Skills CFA – introduced the first HR apprenticeship pathway, the level 5 human resource management (HRM) higher apprenticeship. This is equivalent to the intermediate CIPD qualification and trains apprentices to become HR executives, HR officers, assistant HR managers or assistant HR advisers. A Level 7 higher apprenticeship will qualify trainees for chartered membership of the CIPD and prepare them for HR manager, adviser and director roles.

Transport for London (TfL) is among the organisations that is hoping to benefit. It took on four HR apprentices in 2015, with plans for a further six in 2016. They are being trained at level 5, with the intention that they will be made permanent when they complete their studies.

Tricia Riley, HR director, says taking on apprentices has been "one of the best decisions I have made… Apprenticeships really do provide a valuable pipeline of talented people into your business and enable you to pass on the expertise and knowledge within your organisation. Apprentices bring fresh ideas with a burst of enthusiasm and energy that is clear to see among colleagues from across the business.”

Melissa Foster, a current HR apprentice at TfL, joined the company after completing her A-levels. Unsure how her planned route of a politics degree would lead to a career, she decided to look into apprenticeships. "I think being an apprentice is one of the most valuable learning experiences I could have asked for. I have shadowed a lot of different teams within people management and HR services. Every day has been different, which I find so rewarding as it enables me to find out what area of HR I enjoy the most," she says.

Michele Noble, lead centre partnership officer at the CIPD, says interest in HR apprenticeships is picking up. She advises employers to contact the National Apprenticeship Service for advice, and to advertise vacancies, or work with local colleges or FE providers.

The right training provider, she adds, is crucial: “The relationship between the provider and the employer needs to be strong – the provider will have to make sure that the apprentice is exposed to certain parts of the job, because when they come to do the assessment they need to check that they have been given the opportunities to do the work that is required in the programme.”

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  • I started as a HR Higher Level Apprentice at Warwickshire County Council, which lead to me winning the CIPD Student Award 2015. A fantastic opportunity for young people and I would never change my decision to do an apprenticeship.