A guest post to mark National Apprenticeship Week by Chris Swerling, head of HR at Cheshire law firm SAS Daniels
Apprenticeships allow people to study for a work-based qualification that can drastically improve their future earning power and career fulfillment. We have proved that they also bring considerable benefits to law firms.
Back in 2013, we recognised the government had a goal to increase apprenticeships as a way of upskilling the country. Accepting that the legal profession did not normally provide for such vocational training, in partnership with the Manchester Metropolitan University, we helped develop and launch the first legal apprenticeships in the UK.
We then went on to be one of the first firms in the country to take on legal apprentices.We have seen a big shift in attitudes towards vocational learning over the last six years, particularly with more people choosing the apprenticeship route first rather than university.
All our legal apprentices have excellent training using training providers such as Manchester Metropolitan University, Damar, Trafford College and Now Skills. Our first two apprentices have gone on to obtain their degree and are now both trainee solicitors. We soon realised this was a fantastic opportunity, not just for the apprentices, but also for this firm to mold our own talent and grow leaders of the future.
When we recruit our young apprentices, we train them on not only our core systems and the law, but soft skills too. These include communication skills, teamwork, initiative exercises, listening skills and social skills. We expect these young people to join our team and be able to provide an excellent service to our clients, and soft skills are vital. It is rewarding to watch them grow and we celebrate their achievements with the whole firm.
With the introduction of the government apprenticeship Levy, over 10% of our headcount is now made up of apprentices across our four Cheshire offices. They work across every department, legal and non-legal, from property and litigation to finance and HR. The impact they are having on the success of this business is widely accepted by our governing board and all the partners.
To mark National Apprenticeship Week, I want to highlight the benefits that apprenticeship schemes can bring to other law firms that may be considering this route.
Apprenticeships allow law firms to plan several years into the future with confidence, enabling employers to think about the future needs of the business.
Apprentices bring a fresh perspective and often an inherent understanding of technology. We benefit enormously from their skills and attitudes. They offer a great way of injecting new energy and creative ideas into the business and allow us to stay competitive.
Apprenticeships allow people to earn while they learn. They are a welcome alternative to the traditional route and mean that people do not incur debt to cover the cost of their education. The increasing cost of studying at university can put many people off. Apprenticeships suit people who want to get straight into work, earn money and gain experience.
Learning on the job allows apprentices to work alongside seasoned professionals in the legal profession and learn from them. Crucially, it develops commercial awareness – a transferable skill that all commercial law firms look for in employees. In our experience, commercial awareness is not necessarily something that can be understood and developed at university or from a textbook.
Apprenticeships are key to creating a stronger and fairer economy. They can help employers tackle recruitment challenges, such as diversity. Apprenticeships should be as accessible as possible to encourage take-up from under-represented groups and contribute to a more equal and diverse workforce.
Employees who have trained in-house are usually highly motivated and committed to the business. On several occasions, we have offered apprenticeships to existing members of staff when we have spotted potential. It shows that we see them as an integral part of the team and that we want to invest in their development and future. Apprentices tend to stay with the company for longer, which can reduce overall recruitment costs.
The role of an apprentice can help free up existing senior staff time. Delegating day-to-day tasks to an apprentice helps them learn and allows qualified solicitors to concentrate on key areas of work. Better allocation and distribution of work boosts productivity and efficiency within the firm.
Apprentices are vital to our business and a key part of our long-term business plan.