The range of apprenticeships now available offer opportunities to forge real careers in law and to develop within the workplace for both new and existing employees. Those who meet academic requirements, but have zero office experience can build a career by working their way up from an entry-level role to working as a paralegal and then all the way through to qualifying as a solicitor.
The opportunity of obtaining a degree via an apprenticeship is possible too, so the age-old worry of apprenticeships being inferior to traditional routes is on track to becoming a myth. So much so that we considered apprenticeship alternatives for all entry-level roles.
Since the onset of our apprenticeship programme, we have taken on over 100 legal and non-legal candidates. It has been a great learning experience for us to make sure we are creating the right working and learning environment, but more importantly retaining the candidate once the programme has finished.
One of the key things we learned was that apprentices need the right mentor/supervisor to succeed. Therefore businesses need to invest in recruiting and training the right people to look after, teach and oversee the apprentices. Picking the right supervisor and ensuring they have the tools at their disposal, while overseeing an apprentice is critical.
Supervisors need to be confident as they will be involved in review meetings and general mentoring of the apprentice throughout the duration of the programme. Apprentices need to have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, in terms of skills, experience and behaviours and be allowed to complete both on and off the job training. This will all be gathered from the mentor and thus essential to have the right people in place.
All apprentices have different needs and expectations of themselves and the working environment. For some, this will be their first experience in the world of work. It’s key to create a safe environment for them to learn and fully adjust to the workplace. They tend to need further support, time and guidance from their mentors. Rather than building on previous knowledge and experience, work on the assumption that apprentices have little to no knowledge both in terms of working in an office and the law itself.
The lack of previous experience can actually be an advantage as the apprentices can be taught how to work and operate in a way that supports the goals of the team and the wider business. The role of a mentor should be seen as a dual one of ‘traditional supervisor’ as well as ‘mentor/teacher’.
Appropriate time should be taken to explain tasks in detail and provide a comprehensive precedent. At the end of each job, provide detailed feedback either verbally or by way of tracked changes to assist future learning. Ensure that paralegal apprentices have a more experienced paralegal in the team as a point of contact who can answer more general day to day queries. Investing time into apprentices is time well spent. Apprentices are eager to learn and are very receptive to feedback. You tend to find that once they have completed a task a couple of times, they can go on to complete tasks with minimal supervision.
Training and development is key to creating a successful apprenticeship programme. While at DWF we have a number of online resources, supporting skills such as time management and personal effectiveness, we benefit from partnering with a reputable training provider. Choosing the right provider is important as their capabilities differ enormously and it is essential they fit with the culture of the business and understand the long term objectives. A good provider will do more than just provide training, they will advise on trends in the market and support you with recruitment. Recruitment at apprenticeship level is a specialist area and very different from recruiting qualified candidates.
Apprentices do require more initial investment, providing they have the right work ethic and eagerness to learn, this hurdle can be overcome and the team and wider business will soon reap the benefits.
Kate Hasluck is emerging talent manager at DWF