Bond Dickinson have worked with schools and parents alike to educate and engage with them about apprenticeships as a valuable route to employee. Here Sam Lee discusses the measurements currently in place.

The last few months has seen a number of law firms announce the launch of new apprenticeship programmes and I’m delighted to see such positive developments within our profession. We by no led the charge, but did launch our first scheme in September 2014, with three apprentices joining our paralegal team in Plymouth on the Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship in Legal Services, supported by CILEx.

The launch of our programme was the result of a year-long project that involved significant consultation, development of the programme and education of the mentors and supervisors.

So why did we do it? The business case was strong. We’d recognised the importance of creating alternative routes to law, not just to address social mobility in the profession, but to give access to those who wanted to start their careers sooner rather than later. We also wanted ensure a continued pipeline of paralegals within our Onshore team so it was important us that we develop our own home grown talent.

We have a large team of paralegals in Plymouth, the Onshore team. We developed this model to provide a flexible, centralised and multi-disciplinary resource for the business. Some teams delegate their routine work to the Onshore team, others access the team for support with ad hoc projects or secondments. But we face retention challenges with paralegals – we’re fortunate to have some talented individuals in our business so it comes as no surprise when we hear they have secured training contracts; some with us, some elsewhere. But that constant churn presents challenges for the business and our apprenticeship scheme is just one of the strategies that we’ve adopted to help address that. When we started the scheme, average length of service for our paralegals was less than two years. It’s now increased to 4 years, and employee turnover has reduced by 37%.

We’ve been so impressed at how quickly our apprentices have integrated into the business and contributed to the success of the Onshore team. They’re bright, motivated and technically very competent. They’re already performing in paralegal roles with their financial contributions improving month on month. We’ve plans to grow the team and legal apprenticeships are an integral part of that growth strategy.

We’re about to enter our third year of this programme and have learnt plenty of lessons along the way.

Engage with parents – often the decision makers, they need convincing that this is a credible alternative to university. The financial case isn’t enough. We run open evenings for parents so that they can hear more about our programme, the development opportunities and to ask any questions they might have. Our apprentices will deliver some of the presentations which is really powerful.

Engage with schools – our first year was quite challenging. There was still a perception that apprenticeships were for those not bright enough for university so getting into schools was hard. Now, we work closely with a handful of schools in the local area supporting their employability strategy and selling the idea of apprenticeships is much easier.

Preparation – take the time to get it right by having a fully developed programme before launching, this is not something you can play by ear.

Support – get the buy-in of everyone involved. It takes an enormous amount of support to make a success of this scheme. We have mentors, supervisors and a Manager who dedicates a significant amount of time to working with our apprentices – the scheme wouldn’t be the success that it is without everyone’s involvement.

Education – managing an apprentice is different from managing other employees and your supervisors will need to be aware of the challenge this brings. With no workplace experience, apprentices will need a grounding in the basics; workplace etiquette, timekeeping, dress code.

Use your apprentices as ambassadors – what better way to sell your apprenticeship programme and it’s benefits, than by asking your current apprentices to share their experiences. There’s a temptation to want to protect your apprentices from the more challenging aspects of the workplace, particularly those who are straight out of GCSE or A-Level. However, in our experience, they’ve more than demonstrated that they are capable, and hungry to be pushed out of their comfort zone. We now send our apprentices back to their schools to talk about the apprenticeship route, they attend careers events and even deliver the presentations at our open evenings. We needn’t have worried – they’ve been outstanding and have made us very proud.

This is certainly not an easy option, for the apprentices or our business. It’s hard work, it’s rigorous and our apprentices have absolutely risen to that challenge. For the business, we’ve had to put a lot of time and effort into developing the programmes, and supporting the apprentices through it, but it’s absolutely been worth it. It’s been one of the most positive recruitment strategies we’ve introduced and its success has led to us exploring a number of other opportunities for apprentices across the business.

To hear Sam Lee and a range of other leading early careers professionals speak at our popular early careers event in July, find out more about our programme and tickets here.