For family and owner managed businesses, it is crucial to find innovative ways to incentivise and expand the workforce in order to keep up with the competition and to be able to ride out any economic uncertainties.

Offering good salaries, family-friendly working arrangements and non-remuneration benefits are popular examples of the ways businesses can attract and retain employees. However, there are also other creative options businesses can explore in order to plug skills gaps, retain existing staff and encourage new talent into the workplace.

One such (often overlooked) option is the use of apprenticeships.

With the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017, there was a considerable push to encourage the creation of apprenticeships across the UK. A couple of years on, it is clear that there is scope for the levy to be harnessed much more widely by businesses.

There are a vast number of apprenticeship schemes available across a variety of sectors, from agriculture to manufacturing and engineering, to health and beauty. Many of these schemes have been developed by industry experts and are offered at several qualification levels.

Apprentices are particularly valuable for family and owner managed businesses, as they provide an in-house opportunity to teach and shape a future generation to become experts in a particular field. Family businesses are usually rooted in strong core values which are used not only to attract employees, but are also key to attracting and retaining customers. With an apprentice, these core values can be reinforced from an early stage as part of the individual’s on the job learning. This will help to ensure that the reputation and image marketed by your business is maintained across the years and down the generations.

Apprenticeships can also encourage staff loyalty; by the business demonstrating a commitment to the training and development of its workforce, staff are likely to feel valued within the business and committed to their employment. There is a common misconception that apprenticeships are for entry-level opportunities only, meaning that apprenticeship schemes are often overlooked by employers. Apprenticeships can also be used to upskill your existing workforce, for example by creating a route into a management role, or offering an opportunity for an employee to move into a different area of the business. The existence of these wider opportunities may encourage employees to stay with the business in circumstances where they might otherwise have started to look elsewhere to transition into the next stage of their career.

With Brexit looming on the horizon, apprenticeships will be a particularly useful tool for businesses which rely on migrant workers from the EU. The UK may become a less attractive place to work post-Brexit, and current indications are that free movement from other EU member states to the UK will cease with effect from 1st January 2021. The knock on effect of free movement ceasing is that it will be more difficult for EU workers to migrate to the UK to live and work which is predicted to cause a skills shortage in some industries.

However, the period from now until the 31 December 2020 (when free movement is likely to cease) provides a window of opportunity for businesses to identify any potential skills gaps and consider introducing apprenticeships to fill those gaps. This will help to reduce any impact that Brexit may have on the workforce.

Brexit aside, staff turnover can be expensive and cause significant disruption to operations when handled badly. Recruiting apprentices assists with retention and productivity and allows you to tailor your employees’ skillsets to meet the specific demands of your business.

There is some useful guidance on the steps businesses are required to take in order to hire an apprentice at