As part of the recent Seafarers Awareness Week, Seafarers UK reported that the UK’s marine industries sector employs just under a million people, and contributes over £40 billion to UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Like many other sectors, we know that the marine sector faces a growing shortage of skilled workers. Marine employers are seeking to address this by “growing your own” talent by investing in apprenticeship programmes.

At their best, apprenticeships inspire people, as well as developing and training professionals for the future. We work with many businesses who have successfully invested in talented individuals who want to develop a career, bring new ideas, and who can be moulded to reflect the standards and culture of the business.

Sadly, alongside the success stories, we also see situations when apprenticeships don’t work out. It can be challenging when an apprenticeship turns sour, so what can employers do to avoid problems?

Good Practice

Working with an apprentice involves a third party, the training provider. It’s important to find the right provider that you can trust to deliver the course, and to help manage the relationship with your apprentices pro-actively.

Be very clear (with help from the training providers you are working with) on the training and development programme you are offering. What exactly does it look like, and how will you support your apprentice to develop their skills by the end of the programme? Discuss with them what will happen if the apprentice does not meet the grade.

Pay and benefits are important – the National Minimum Wage (NMW) rules for apprentices allow businesses to pay lower rates than for other employee categories (currently £3.70 per hour) but do carefully consider the candidate market before deciding if NMW is the right rate to advertise. Be clear on any other non-pay benefits that will help to ‘sell’ your opportunity over others.

Always follow a thorough and fair recruitment process to help select the best candidate(s) available.

Plan a proper induction, with mentoring or ‘buddying’ for your apprentice. Many apprentices will be new to the world of work and often need more help than other new staff with getting to grips with the expectations and standards in your workplace.

Contract Terms

For centuries, the law governing apprenticeships was contained in common law, and apprentices worked under ‘contracts of apprenticeship’. Apprentices working under contracts of apprenticeship are employees with all the usual employment rights. However, apprentices employed under a contract of apprenticeship have enhanced rights on termination of their employment, with employers owing them greater obligations, with consequently greater potential business risks if termination is being considered.

These days however, most apprentices in England are employed under an approved English Apprenticeship Agreement. Given the more restricted rights offered to apprentices under this type of agreement, marine employers are more likely to want to enter into an apprenticeship agreement, than a common law contract of apprenticeship.

Your training provider may provide you with some help on this, but they don’t always and often expect you to get the right contract in place. You should not just use your standard employee one. Stephens Scown are experienced in helping employers to set up employment contracts of all types, including the right type for apprentices, and would be happy to help you.

Age Discrimination

With apprentices tending to be younger workers, there are some potential risks of discrimination linked to age.

Government funding for apprentices has generally been tiered according to age. However, it is risky to apply a similar ‘upper age limit’ in your own apprentice recruitment on the basis of funding eligibility. Seek advice if you are unsure.

The National Minimum Wage rates permit you to pay different rates of pay to employees of different ages (25 and over, 21 to 24, 18 to 20, Under 18, and Apprentice). Note that the Apprentice rate is for apprentices aged under 19, and those aged 19 or over who are in the first year of their apprenticeship. Do watch this ‘first year’ rule for those aged 19 and over, ensuring your payroll systems are set up correctly to pick up when increases are due.

Verity Slater is an employment partner in our Truro office. To discuss the content in this article or any other HR issue call 01872 265100 or email