Is an Apprentice a Good Fit for Your Company?
Hiring entry-level talent can be a daunting task. How do you balance affordability with the lack of experience entailed by someone applying for these sorts of positions? It can seem risky to bring someone into your company who doesn’t already have a lot to offer. This is especially true when you know you are going to need to spend time and resources training them, just for them to potentially leave for another company after not too long.
Decades ago, large corporations were more willing to bring in entry-level workers and spend resources training them, mostly because employee retainment timelines were much longer. Many people spent their entire careers within a single company.
Times have changed. The average worker now spends two years before moving on to another company. With the rise of freelancing and the autonomy provided by new technology, it can be increasingly difficult for business owners to ensure they will get a good return on investment from training employees in-house.
The problem is that there will always be tasks and processes in a business that require entry-level workers in order to remain cost-effective. You can’t have your specialized employees wasting time on unimportant tasks, so the fact that you need entry-level roles doesn’t simply go away.
Many startups cover this problem through internships and online virtual assistants, but there exists a better alternative that is only recently being recognized for its value. That solution is apprenticeships.
What Is an Apprentice? (And Why You Should Consider One)
“Don’t look for talent, find people who do things” — Tucker Max
An apprentice is an option frequently overlooked by small business owners. Often what is needed for a fast-growing, small-to-medium-sized business isn’t an experienced specialist or employee, but a smart, affordable generalist.
This is someone who will help get those small, time-consuming tasks done, build processes around them, and free up time for the founder. More than that, they are someone who will be looking to learn a lot from the company and will want to stick around for a while to gain more experience and create a position for themselves.
Think about it — when you start a new company, you want to work with someone who is motivated, smart, ambitious and ready to push through any challenge that comes up. These are traits business owners look for in any good employee or business partner.
Yet paying a full-time salary for someone with these traits who is advanced in their career can often be prohibitively expensive for a new company. Even though you can get lucky and find these traits in a great employee, you’ll usually have hired that person for a specific function and not want them to spend their valuable time on small tasks that fall outside their area of expertise.
With most types of entry-level workers, you also have this specialization problem. Many entry-level employees have the double whammy of not only being restricted to a narrow role, but also having a low effectiveness within that role due to lack of experience. Compound this with the fact that employers can’t expect employees to stick around for long these days, and this type of hire quickly becomes particularly unappealing.
Interns and virtual assistants have become attractive solutions for the entry-level problem for many small businesses. However, as I’ll outline below, the significant transaction costs associated with these two options shows there is a better alternative available.
How can you guarantee you’ll hire an entry-level worker who is also motivated to work at your company and stick around to grow into a more senior position? What are the options for hiring, and what is ultimately the best option for hiring entry level?
Your Options for Hiring:
Contractor / Consultant / Employee
The most common options for bringing someone new into your team are through contractors, consultants and regular employees. These are rarely a good option for entry-level hires, so I’ll gloss over each briefly.
Contractors and consultants typically have a deep skill set in a specific area and come in to complete a project with a defined scope.
Employees are similar, but will stay with the company for longer and are typically more invested in the long-term success of the company.
Hiring a contractor, consultant or employee could be a great move if you’re looking to solve a very specific problem in your business, or if you have a well-defined area that needs to be developed by someone with narrow expertise.
The problem with these options is that the costs are usually prohibitive for bootstrapped startups or small businesses. Many entrepreneurs find themselves in a position where they need an affordable, smart and flexible business partner, but they don’t have the money to invest in a highly specialized, short-term consultant or employee (which will be a longer commitment and forms a bigger cost center).
The pros and cons of hiring either a contractor, consultant or employee are:
- Already have well-developed skills.
- Usually motivated, smart and hardworking.
- Better retainment timelines than other options.
- Comparatively expensive.
- Expensive person performing entry-level tasks.
Hiring an intern is a well-recognized solution for businesses looking to bring in affordable entry-level talent.
An internship is a short-term position which allows a university student or recent graduate the opportunity to accrue experience for their future career. They are usually focused on a specialized role and are looking to gain experience for a professional position in that area. Internships are typically unpaid.
Hiring an intern can be a good option if you are a corporate company with close ties to university programs or other sourcing options, yet even then they will typically come with a limited placement period and a varying degree of quality and work ethic.
While an intern may be smart, motivated and hardworking, their short retainment timelines and specialization usually mean they’ll be delegated to one small function, and then before you know it they’re gone.
It’s not the best use of time for a busy entrepreneur to manage someone with no skills who is going to be gone in a month or two. The common result is the cliche of an intern being used as a glorified coffee grabber, or stuck in a corner doing “busy work” and generally staying out of everyone’s way.
Interns work great in some situations, but many companies are finding the model fundamentally flawed due to the above reasons.
- Usually unpaid (no incurred cost to the employer).
- Easily sourced if you have ties with universities.
- Short-term retainment timeline.
- Usually come with a specific focus area they want to develop.
- Mixed results for quality control/motivation.
- Lack of skills when entering the company.
A virtual assistant (VA) is a common hiring option for bootstrapped companies looking for help with time-consuming tasks. Actions such as contact sourcing, web scraping or research are outsourced to VAs for low rates in order to free up time for you to focus on business-building activities.
The difference between apprentices and VAs is that VAs are good at maintaining (executing existing processes) whereas apprentices have the potential to drive growth (create or improve new processes), given time and support.
VAs are great at executing well-established processes and instructions, and if you have these in place it doesn’t really matter who the assistant is. The problem with VAs is that the buck often stops there. They can be great to help alleviate entry-level tasks, but if you’re looking for someone who is invested in your business and wants to help create long-term value, there are better options out there.
- Sourced relatively easily.
- Easily replaceable.
- Won’t make entrepreneurial decisions outside the scope of their assigned tasks.
- Usually won’t be invested in the business or concerned with its long-term success.
An apprentice is typically someone who has heard about online business and startups, or maybe even started a side project and developed basic skills. They are someone with loads of potential, but they would benefit from serious business mentorship and training to fully realize it.
There are many people out there who want to learn everything they can about online business and startups, and who are looking for a mentor and an opportunity to prove themselves. An apprentice combines the affordability of an assistant with the entrepreneurial edge of a higher paid employee or contractor, and comes with a medium-to-long retainment timeline to boot.
They expect to be pushed. An apprentice wants an opportunity to learn more about business and entrepreneurship, and they will jump at every chance to learn and grow. This gives you someone who will not just do tasks you assign them, but will identify new areas of opportunity in your business and capitalize on them.
Employers don’t just hope apprentices grow into new positions, they expect them to move up. An apprentice is someone who should have executive or management potential in the next few years.
- While a contractor or employee will fill a specialized function in your business at a cost, they often won’t have the flexibility to help with general entry-level tasks and actively build processes as the business grows (nor would it be affordable for them to do so).
- As opposed to an intern, an apprentice will get to know your business over the long term, build processes, work across multiple roles, and provide insight at an affordable rate.
- An assistant is often smart, hardworking, reliable and cheap. However, many assistants won’t actively help build new processes in the business or scope out new initiatives like a higher paid employee or an apprentice would.
If you are an early-stage entrepreneur looking to make one of your first hires, an apprentice is simply the best option.
- Will be actively invested in helping your business grow.
- Can act as a generalist, doing whatever needs to get done.
- Ambitious, smart and hardworking.
- Usually come with bare-minimum skills and so require mentorship.
How Apprenticeships Work
Apprentices give you the opportunity to bring future leadership talent into your organization at an affordable rate.
The brightest, most ambitious people today are looking for fast-moving positions in fast-growth companies. Someone looking for an apprenticeship is saying “I’m at a point in my career where I want to prioritize learning over earning.”
From an employer perspective, that means there’s tremendous potential to find undervalued assets.
So what can you expect when bringing an apprentice into your company?
Since we’ve compared what the main differences are between the options for hiring someone new, let’s take a look at what to expect when hiring an apprentice, and what you’ll need to do to prepare.
What qualifies as an apprentice? Is getting an apprentice right for me?
An apprentice can be defined by the following:
- Work at least 10 hours per week: You don’t have to hire an apprentice full time, but you need to make sure there will be enough work available to keep them interested.
- Growth role: The role should be entrepreneurial in nature and your organization should have a track record of growth to support the position you are hiring for. Apprentices are looking to move up fast, so there needs to be a route for them to do that, given they work hard to execute an initial path laid out for them.
- Entry-level: Most apprentices are talented and hard-working, but lack specific experience. Entry-level roles where you just need someone to come in and hustle provide the best opportunity. Whether it’s an existing marketing strategy that needs executing, a driven sales assistant or a smart person to take over some operations tasks, these are all great starting points for an apprentice.
- Remote: Currently, all the positions we post are remote, though you are welcome to stipulate time zones. We also find apprentices for companies based in New York City.
How do I know when it’s the right time to hire an apprentice?
Generally, you want to use apprentices to fill roles that a smart, motivated person without any specific knowledge of your industry could do.
The best time to hire an apprentice is when you have a defined cashflow that they can take over and manage. Some examples might be:
Sales Apprentice: You have a successful inbound marketing funnel but your salesperson is spending all their time qualifying leads instead of closing deals. This would be a great time to bring in an apprentice to do lead qualification calls and set appointments on your salesperson’s calendar. This would let them learn the ins and outs of your company and sales process and put them in a strong position to move up.
Marketing Apprentice: You have a content strategy that is driving leads and sales, but your marketing team doesn’t have the bandwidth to produce more content. Bringing an apprentice in to create more content and coordinate with guest writers in your already proven system would let you scale a channel that’s already working, while allowing the apprentice to learn how the business works and improve their skills.
Operations Apprentice: You run a marketing agency and have developed an effective website-building process for your clients. It’s already working and producing results but your operations team doesn’t have the bandwidth to expand because they are stuck executing on it. An apprentice could take over execution, learn the system and then begin to actively expand upon it.
Does it look like you have a position in your company that would be a good fit for an apprentice? Fantastic. You are in a situation where you can give someone an opportunity of a lifetime while also reaping the benefits of their motivation and will to succeed.
To make sure you’ve got everything set up properly before hiring, I’ve put together this checklist to help you get into the best position possible for bringing an apprentice into your company.
Onboarding checklist: What you’ll need before you hire
As an entrepreneur, you’re used to having stuff thrown on your plate and figuring out ways to make it work. You have tons of ideas and see tons of opportunity for growing your business. The natural thing to do when someone new comes in is to throw a bunch of stuff on their plate and let them deal with it.
Remember, though, that you’re bringing in an aspiring entrepreneur who is probably used to having clearly defined tasks, not tons of ideas thrown at them. That means before hiring you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have a clear idea of what kind of person you want to hire?
Consider your company culture and what traits you are looking for in this role. While an apprentice starts out as a generalist, ideally they will eventually fill some position in your company as a manager or executive. If this is your first hire, you’ll need to carefully think through what characteristics your ideal employee will have. Remember, this is someone you’ll be working with every day, so this is an important place to start.
To help you get started, take a look at GetApprenticeship’s hiring criteria to see how we find great apprentice matches for the companies we work with.
- Do you have clearly defined standard operating procedures (SOPs) for this person to take over?
One way to get better returns on investment (ROIs) out of apprenticeships and reduce your management time is to have very tight processes. If you don’t have a standard operating document or SOPs, here’s a good place to get started.
At a bare minimum, make sure you have a list of tasks or projects you will be able to give to the new hire. This will ensure you know what they are working on and allow you to track their effectiveness over the first few months.
- Do you have time to train this person? (minimum two-five hours/week)
Be able to devote a substantial amount of time to management (I would budget at least five hours/week). I recommend daily calls/huddles for the first month and then twice a week for the first 90 days as a minimum viable management schedule.
- How much can you afford to pay?
$1,500-$2,500/month (roughly $10–15/hour) is a typical starting number for an apprenticeship role. This is variable and will depend on the position and their experience. The exact number you agree upon will be discussed before you hire the apprentice.
Will an apprentice just come in and learn a lot then leave?
Two to four years is a good timeline to set for an apprenticeship. That gives enough time for an apprentice to develop and mature within the company so they are in a strong position for their next role. For your company, it means they will have had long enough to learn the ins and out and make a major contribution.
It’s our belief that having someone great for two to four years can do more for your company than having someone mediocre for 20–40. An apprentice position gives you the opportunity to bring in someone great at a very affordable starting salary.
The exact timing of the apprenticeship should be explicitly discussed during the hiring process to make sure everyone’s expectations are lined up.
Where do you source your candidates from?
Our avatar is someone who has heard about online business/startups and started a side project or two, so they have basic skills but has hit the point where they realize building a business is hard and would like to work with people who have experience.
How long will it take me to see an ROI on an apprentice?
Most people I see usually can expect 90–180 days before they see a positive ROI, with inflection points of contribution usually coming 12–24 months after hiring. Management and building teams are among the highest leverage activities in business, but it takes time.
Ask yourself the following questions before considering hiring an apprentice:
- What type of hire do you need to make? Do you require someone specialized to come in and improve a business area with expertise? Choose an employee or contractor. Need someone to complete some basic tasks for a short time and don’t care if they stick around? Consider an intern or assistant. But if you want a longer-term business partner who will help you build your business, you should consider an apprentice.
- Is an apprentice right for your business? Do you have at least 10 hours of potential work per week that you know will lead to growth in your company? Are the tasks suited to someone smart and motivated but still entry level?
- Is your business set up for a smooth onboarding process? Do you have clearly defined tasks or processes for this person to take over? Do you have a clear image of who you want your ideal applicant to look like? Do you have enough bandwidth to train and manage someone who will require guidance for the first three-six months? Can you afford an apprentice salary?
If you’ve answered the above questions and are sure an apprentice will be a good solution for your business, let us know.
GetApprenticeship provides a risk-free matchmaking service that offers a fast turnaround time and quality apprentices from our in-house list of applicants. If you don’t like who we present you at the end of the hiring period, then you don’t pay.
Interested in hiring an apprentice? Get in touch and we’ll organize a brief call to see if it will be a good fit.
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