Hiring the perfect apprentice: top tips from our HR team

Thinking of taking on more staff post lockdown? Perhaps bringing a new apprentice into the ranks might be something you’d like to consider as a way of helping your business begin growing again?

The Australian Government as part of its economic response to COVID-19 has launched a new subsidy to support apprentice and trainee wages until the end of September 2021.

This is a great incentive, as it’s no secret that taking on an apprentice in any trade, service or construction business is an investment. You devote your time, money and expertise in the hope that your efforts will pay off with a skilled worker who provides professional value in more ways than one.

However, with this package in place, it’s now much easier than ever to justify bringing on a new team member, with employers able to take advantage of a 50 per cent wage subsidy for eligible apprentices.

But this leads us to the question, how do you hire the right apprentice for your business in the first place? After all, unlike qualified professionals, there’s a lot more to consider when taking on the responsibility of training and guiding someone through the early stages of their career.

To help make this easier for you, we asked our HR team at AroFlo to share their insights into recruiting, screening, interviewing and hiring the perfect person for the job.

Because apprentices are sometimes hired through different avenues than traditional employees, we’ll begin with some broad considerations that can help you find where the best potential candidates are and even have them seek out your business with little to no effort involved.

We’ll then build on this and discuss how to pick the perfect candidate and determine whether they’ll be the right fit for your business.

But first, let’s start with the basics of finding talented people.

What to consider before you begin looking for potential apprentices

The process of finding great talent is similar regardless of whether you’re looking for fully qualified professionals or those hoping to move into an apprenticeship. What matters most is having systems in place for bringing in the best possible applicants with the least amount of work.

To start, think about the places you go to look for promising candidates. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a recruitment agency or word of mouth, it should be your mission to make your business sound enticing to those who want to work in your industry.

Never forget that the digital age has brought with it a huge amount of options for how you go about finding talented apprentices, but this stream flows both ways. Naturally skilled individuals have the means to shop around and find an apprenticeship that fits exactly what they need, so it’s up to you to put your best foot forward and drive home the wealth of benefits that come with signing on with your business.

Which leads to another key consideration when setting up a system for bringing in only the best candidates for an apprenticeship.

Investing in your local ties with educational institutions

Talented individuals looking to make their way into the trades, services or construction industries are often snapped up quickly by businesses with an eye for talent.
The only way to get in first is to beat these other businesses to the punch by shaking some hands and making your business known to your local tafes, schools and skills training centres.

Make contact and ask about talented students who may be looking to move into an apprenticeship. The end goal here is to become known locally as a business that welcomes skilled individuals looking to take on an apprenticeship and if done correctly, you’ll always have the best candidates heading your way first.

But just being welcoming isn’t enough, to get potential apprentices on board you need to think exactly like them.

Getting the best talent by thinking like a potential apprentice

Promoting a positive workplace culture that values apprentices and doesn’t see them as a burden in the workplace is a great place to start when looking to draw in talented individuals who want to work for your business.

Offering a competitive or slightly above-average rate of pay can also do wonders for enticing the candidates you want into sticking around long term. This method can help secure great employees with deep-running loyalties to you and your company, which more than pays for itself in time.

Candidates will also want to see whether your business offers them anything special over other similar employment options. This can be difficult to prove before any official interviews or other recruitment processes have taken place. A good strategy for this is to try and align your initial contact with a potential apprentice with what you believe they are looking for from an apprenticeship. Leveraging the strengths of your business, such as operating in a specialist field or being a market leader can help here. But ultimately, it’s up to you to predict what someone is looking for and then prove that you and your business are capable of providing it.

With these broad considerations taken into account, it’s time to dig into our HR team’s advice for effectively screening, interviewing and deciding on the right apprentice for your business.

What to look for in a potential apprentice

Without a doubt, the biggest factor to look out for when assessing a candidate for an apprenticeship is their commitment to their chosen field of work. Many talented individuals fall by the wayside because they aren’t passionate about what they do and having this happen years into an apprentice’s training can be a huge loss for your business.

A great way to quickly see whether a candidate is a good fit for your business is to ask whether they pursue their chosen career path outside of study/work hours. A committed candidate will often work on their skills in their own time and this not only proves their strength as a potential employee but also shows they have key skills in self-guided learning. For help structuring your interview questions around assessing commitment, we recommend checking out this very thorough writeup, complete with question examples and explanation of why they work.

Beyond this, organisational skills, a proactive outlook and the ability to work cohesively with your existing team are all important qualities worth considering before deciding who to hire.

Identifying red flags that indicate a poor candidate

A lack of basic knowledge about the role a person has applied for is the first indicator that they might not be the right pick for an apprenticeship with your business. This goes hand-in-hand with poor personal presentation and an overall lack of care or concern for making a good first impression.

For more mature apprentices perhaps looking to move on from an existing role, keep an eye out for a history of job-hops as this could demonstrate a lack of commitment to the job you’ll be paying them to do. If in doubt, always ask for references and follow them up before making a decision.

Formulating effective questions for interviewing potential apprentices

From a human resource perspective, the majority of the work that goes into interviewing candidates happens before you even set a date to meet for the interview. This is because the success of an interview hinges on you formulating proper questions for your candidates. An apprenticeship by definition means the person you’re interviewing is seeking not just employment, but also training and guidance. Therefore, the questions you ask your candidate should properly address not just their strengths and weaknesses but also their areas for improvement.

Once you’ve created a set of questions you believe will help you get a good idea of whether someone is the right fit, it’s important to take some time and then check again to see whether your bases are fully covered.

Behavioural questions (read this great little guide if you’re unfamiliar with what these are) can be very valuable and quickly demonstrate whether a candidate can explain their experience in a way that shows they have a solid understanding of their responsibilities if offered the position. Technical questions on the other hand can be equally important, as they cover core competencies such as role or industry-specific knowledge and practical thinking skills.

Even when working with potential apprentices, it’s important to explore what they have done to progress their learning and by including a good mix of questions like these, you can far more easily gauge whether a candidate is on the right track.

The subject of industry-specific knowledge and questioning

How much knowledge you should assume a potential apprentice has is largely up to your discretion.

In cases where candidates may be lacking in certain knowledge, it’s important to develop ways of finding out what they do know, rather than what they don’t. For example, instead of asking industry-specific questions with a yes or no answer, instead, build a scenario and then ask your interviewee how they would handle it. This takes the pressure off a candidate who may be worried about gaps in their knowledge and allows them to showcase their ability to draw on what experience they do have.

The most important thing to remember is that competency can be measured in numerous ways, especially in trades, services and construction. By giving a potential apprentice the ability to demonstrate how they specifically would approach a situation, you’ll learn a lot more about them in a shorter space of time.

Exploring weaknesses with a potential apprentice

By asking open-ended questions and pushing a candidate to provide detailed examples to back up their answers you can quickly determine which areas they fall short in.

While a potential apprentice might not meet all the skills or competencies for a role, this doesn’t mean they can’t be the perfect fit for your business. Take your questioning a step further and ask your candidate how they would increase their knowledge and ability in the areas where they are lacking. This helps determine whether a person is self-aware and willing to not just learn under the guidance of your business, but also work to improve themselves as well.

Picking between equally great applicants

When spoiled for choice it’s important to adopt a holistic point of view before making any decisions. At the end of the day, you need to decide on which of your candidates is going to add the most value to your business in the long term. This means not just whether your chosen apprentice will work hard, but also whether they intend to stick around throughout their training and even stay on once they’ve finished their qualifications.

Introduce your candidates to other stakeholders within the business if necessary and don’t be afraid to conduct secondary interviews to help you ask any questions or gain any insight you missed on your first pass.

Hopefully, our HR team’s advice helps you find and hire a great new apprentice and with the government’s wage subsidy available until March 31st next year, there’s never been a better time to expand your workforce while also investing in your future.


Amy Polidano
HR Manager @ AroFlo

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