Employers have lots of decisions to make about Early Talent


20th April 2023

Read Time:

15 mins

Two female teens are working together during their lesson in a classroom.

Employers have lots of decisions to make about early talent. Simon Reichwald of Connectr considers how, at its most crude, this can come down to whether graduates or apprentices are better for your business. 

There is no doubt that since the levy was introduced the spotlight has come onto apprenticeships, in terms of volumes, quality, structure, policy…I could go on!

The ISE has since 2017 been focusing on how best to support it’s members deliver not just ‘graduate excellence’ as they have for over 50 years but also ‘apprenticeship excellence’.

Apprenticeships continue to be a hot topic in the world of Early Talent. Employers have a desire to find ways to get the best from apprenticeships and to figure out how to target, engage, attract, hire, onboard, induct, train and support those apprentices to progress.

Inevitably, as engagement with apprenticeships grows, some employers are starting to ask ’do we hire graduates or apprentices, or both?’ and ’what is the right split between grads and apprentices?’.

In simple terms ISE data tells us that apprentices (those from school and college), have a lower salary and cost per hire, plus better retention than graduates.

On the other hand, graduates, bring more skills, sometimes more experience, and arrive a little more work-ready.

The data doesn’t tell us who are the best employees in the long run, nor what is right for a particular role, organisation or sector. But, the data can give you insights that can help you to decide what type of talent is right for you.

One thing we can be sure about is that there is no answer that is right for everyone, but there are some questions that can help you to decide what is right for your organisation at this point.

7 questions to guide whether graduates or apprentices are better for your business

  1. Why have an early talent strategy?

Are you seeking to build future leaders, technical experts or hiring for particular skills or labour needs?

The popular adage ‘If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always got’ is relevant. Given your business strategy and direction is likely to have changed as a result of the impact of the covid and the new world of work post covid, a lot of firms are reviewing their Early Talent strategy to ensure it aligns to the wider talent strategy.

Also consider how good your organisation is at growing, progressing and retaining talent. Whether you hire graduates, apprentices or both, you need to consistently work hard to be good at this, and arguable this is made harder for all firms now with the new virtual, working from home ways of working. The opportunity to learn from others is reduced and we are seeing the increasing importance of tech in hiring, learning and development and in the way that we work.

  1. How important is it for you to get more value from our levy spend?

Many firms are paying a huge amount into the apprenticeship levy and are seeing limited return on investment from this money. But this can be done in a variety of way, including by enrolling graduates or existing employees onto apprenticeship programmes. But, this then leads us on to the next two questions.

  1. How important is it to improve diversity?

Most employers are keen to improve their diversity and apprenticeship provision, particularly hiring  more school and college leavers, offers one way to do this. The biggest and most diverse pool of talents will be found in schools and colleges.

  1. How important is it to hire from your local communities?

There are strong rationales for building a strong relationship between your organisation and the local community. Hiring from your local schools and colleges is a really strong way to support this.

  1. Do apprenticeship standards exist in all the areas you need?

You will need to research what apprenticeship standards already exist and consider whether they meet your organisation’s needs. Reviewing the standards will help you to shape what apprentices you need and what providers you want to work with.

  1. How big a challenge is finding talent with the skills you need?

Do you find it difficult to get the talent you need through the graduate route? If so, you may find it easier to ‘grow your own’ from apprentice level upwards.

  1. What are the attitudes towards apprentices and graduates within your business?

Once you have answered all of the other questions and have decided what is right for your business and what kind of balance you are looking for between graduates and apprentices,  you will need to think about how these different types of talent are viewed within your business. You will also need to consider what work needs to be done internally to set the business and this new talent up for success.

Find out how we can support your business with an early talent strategy contact us.