Friday, 14 June 2019

Simplyhealth – How to recruit the best possible candidates for digital apprenticeships


The vicious circle of digital recruitment is well-known by just about every business – too few skilled, experienced individuals for the number of positions on offer. Even when recruiting for individuals with no previous experience, it can be difficult to attract candidates with a relevant background. 

So how do you tease out non-traditional candidates’ aptitude for digital roles and get the motivated, skilled digital people you want, particularly when you’re not a tech giant or even in the tech industry?

Simplyhealth are using apprenticeships to draw people’s attention to the possibilities that exist and find the perfect candidates to fill their skills gaps. And it’s working brilliantly.

‘Being based in Andover rather than London means we’ve had trouble accessing talent in the past,’ explains Apprentice Manager Natalie Dixey, who is masterminding Simplyhealth’s programme to create a fresh wave of digital talent throughout the company. She gave Firebrand her top tips for finding the people you want for the roles you’ve got. 

Let people show you what they can do.


When Simplyhealth realised they needed more software development capability, they decided to ask candidates to create a website as the initial stage of their application for one new Level 4 Software Developer apprenticeship position. The best responses came from a surprising quarter. ‘We had a real shortage of digital skills, but we didn’t realise the interest – and the hunger – within the existing company for these roles,’ said Natalie.

The successful candidates – both were so good that Simplyhealth decided to create two positions rather than the planned one – had been working in the company’s Customer Service teams for several years before applying for the new role. Their knowledge and appreciation of the company shone through in the set task in a way it couldn’t have done on their CV. 

Don’t assume that ‘experienced’ staff won’t be interested in apprenticeships.


Apprenticeships are designed to deliver new and up-to-date skills, making them ideal for long-serving staff who may not have specific training or qualifications in the field they work in. Used effectively, they can become a core part of your training catalogue as well as an effective recruitment tool.

Natalie cites a recent Information Systems Business Analyst apprenticeship which was advertised internally in the Analytics division. ‘We had 16 applicants for the role, assessed seven, interviewed four and ended up offering two people positions. Both had been with the business over ten years and worked on a lot of big projects, so they could bring that knowledge of what the business does to bear. Our analytics apprenticeships give existing staff a great platform to develop their skills and get a qualification behind them.’ 

Help every apprentice through their first few weeks.


While Simplyhealth’s policy is to look for suitable internal candidates before advertising apprenticeships externally, they’ve also secured great new talent for their .NET team by hiring two college-leavers with previous IT qualifications. New hires are provided with digital resources before joining that provide plenty of information on the company and what to expect working for Simplyhealth.

Wherever they’re recruited from, says Natalie, the vital thing is to make every apprentice feel comfortable in their new role and environment. ‘We need to provide just as much support for existing staff moving in from other departments as we do for new recruits. For say, our hires from Customer Service, they’re going from an environment where they’re talking to customers all day, to sitting at a desk and coding.’ 

Get support from the top down…


Dave Exall, Simplyhealth’s Chief Information Officer, was keen to support talent development through apprenticeships from the moment he joined the company in May 2018. In his view, apprentices ‘provide us with an opportunity to recruit and develop innovative people with great potential and passion to build their careers.’

Managers across the IT function have followed Dave’s lead and been enthusiastic about having apprentices in their teams. ‘Many managers have experience of apprentices in their former roles, so they’re fully behind it,’ says Natalie. Building a culture where apprentices are positively welcomed, nurtured and celebrated will ultimately attract a better calibre of applicant. 

…but understand that apprentices need time and support to become great at their job.


While many companies are trying to limit the amount of time spent mentoring apprentices, Simplyhealth are actively embracing the time it takes to get people to where they want them to be.

‘The managers offering apprenticeship vacancies are really keen to support these new roles, and we’re happy to give apprentices and managers time in which they can mentor and train,’ says Natalie. ‘They don’t want people with loads of experience - where an apprentice has got a real passion for the work, that’s what they want to see.’ 

Consider the impact on the team around the apprentice.


Nobody wants to end up doing extra work to cover for an apprentice when they’re completing their learning. It’s important to consider the potential impact on teams’ productivity and morale before hiring someone who will, by definition, need extra support.

Natalie highlights this as a crucial step in Simplyhealth’s qualification procedure for apprenticeship positions, with managers checking all team members are ready to support an apprentice before they commit. ‘In practice, we have senior members of teams mentoring the apprentices, which works really well.’ 

Sometimes an apprenticeship isn’t the answer.


Natalie is quick to point out that apprenticeships aren’t always the best solution. ‘Apprenticeships aren’t for everybody – you have to really want to do the training and be committed to completing the programme.’ Equally, not every role will make a suitable apprenticeship. ‘I make sure I go through the standard with each managers before the provider does the same thing, and that the manager is specific about activities they’ll use to meet the 20% off-the-job learning requirement.’

Simplyhealth’s clear, outcome-focused approach for current apprentices delivers results for everyone involved. The apprentice feels secure and valued, the team feel they’re gaining an asset rather than a liability, the managers feel empowered and the business gets the skills it needs to grow and thrive. The success of the current cohort has prompted an upsurge in demand across the business. ‘Other managers are seeing the apprentices who’ve come into other teams and wanting to get in on the act,’ says Natalie. ‘As word starts to get out, we think we’ll see a lot more.’

Firebrand is working with Simplyhealth and many other employers to develop the next generation of digital talent. To find out more about how we can support your business’ digital aspirations, get in touch.

Find out about apprenticeship and other job opportunities at Simplyhealth