The following post was contributed by Alan Richards, Senior Consultant at Foundation SP and SharePoint MVP.

Background
When I looked at writing this article I garnered some opinions from a lot of different people; educationalists, IT professionals and also the directors of my current company. The surprising bit about gathering all of this opinion was how similar it was, for me this was a bit of a shock, I really did think that all of these people from completely different career spectrums would have very differing opinions.

So what was that opinion; well in a nutshell it was that it depends. Now that might sound like a bit of a get out of jail reaction but it is very true, the choice of graduate or apprentice does depend on a lot of factors. Some of these I have listed here

· Maturity of the business
· Speed of new staff member being able to contribute to the business
· Skillset needed by the business
· Freeness of business staff to provide quality on the job training and guidance

This list is not an exhaustive one but shows some of the thought that has to go in to decision making behind whether the business takes on a graduate or an apprentice.

Education & Skillsets
While in essence the employment of either a graduate or apprentice will provide the business with the same thing; a new person in the business, the skillset and maturity of the new staff member can be quite different. An apprentice is normally a School leaver over the age of 16 while a graduate who has undertaken a 3 year course will be over the age of 22 once they have completed School, College and finally University. While the age difference is not and should not be a reason for a choice of employment, it’s that age difference that has allowed the graduate to gain more life experience but more importantly it has allowed them to gain experience of learning at a higher level while gaining a qualification. A lot of IT based degrees also now contain an element of professional qualifications, so as well as finishing University with a degree, a graduate could also leave with a Microsoft professional qualification.

In simple terms an apprentice will have proved themselves at GCSE level and will be able to demonstrate an ability to learn at a given level, they may well be able to learn at a higher level and the majority of students who would have left education at 16 years are more than capable of continuing in education. Changes in the law recently also mean that young adults have to continue either in education or training until the age of 18, in effect the education leaving age has been raised to 18. A graduate on the other hand will be able to demonstrate the ability to learn at a higher level.

Scenarios
Let’s look at a couple of scenarios that may highlight some of the decisions that will need to be made when choosing between a graduate or apprentice.

Company One
Company one is an IT solutions company that employs around 20 people and specialises in providing its clients with web based solutions for the motor trade industry. Company one has been awarded a new contract that will significantly increase its workload and will require additional staff members. The deadlines for the contract are tight and the solutions will require in depth knowledge of common programming languages.

Looking at this scenario the key elements to pull out are that it is a fairly small company and the new contract is going to keep them all very busy.

Given the investment that is required by the business in supporting an apprentice and also the fact that the business needs an instant return from any new employees, it would be fair to say that a graduate would be a better person to employ.

Company Two
Company two is an IT solutions company that employs around 100 people and specialise in providing its clients with web base solutions for the motor trade. Company two has an established pipeline of contracts that provide sufficient work for its employees. Company two are considering employing a small number of new staff to bolster its numbers.

Looking at this scenario the company could choose between either graduates or apprentices. However a good choice would be the apprentice; when a company takes on an apprentice it not only gets a new member of staff but it also gets the support infrastructure that comes along with it. An apprentice will be supported by a training organisation that will provide the technical training that is required to gain the professional qualifications. As the apprentice is gaining those qualifications, possibly through day release, as a company you can mould the apprentice into a staff member that fits into the company and understands the ethos that the company works to.

An apprentice is a long term investment from the company and also from the apprentice, it can also foster a sense of loyalty to the company that has trained them and provided them with this great opportunity.

Summary
So as I come to the end of the article, I think you can see why right at the top of the article I said that most of the opinion that I had collected and also my own opinion is that the choice between graduate and apprentice depends on a number of factors.

- A graduate will provide you with a mature employee that has gained high level qualifications and in some cases professional qualifications that will provide an immediate return on the company’s investment.

- An apprentice is a long term investment in the training of a future and hopefully loyal employee. Apprentices will undergo professional training from a partnering training company while being moulded in the company’s ethos.

Over time the skills of the graduate and the skills of the apprentice will converge, the only difference being that those skills will be gained on the job and refined by the employer when taking on an apprentice.



This year at Microsoft UK we’ve opened our first ever official Apprenticeship programme starting in September 2014.   We’re looking for school leavers aged 16 years + to join either our Business Management or Technical stream.  Do you know someone who would be a good fit as a Microsoft Apprentice? Please share far and wide and if you know someone who may be interested, tell them to apply at www.microsoft.com/uk/students.
Hurry though, applications close on 2nd June, and we don’t want anyone to miss out.

Author BIO:

Alan Richards has been working in the IT industry for over 18 years and during that time has been at the forefront of using IT. He has led teams that have been among the first to roll out Windows, Exchange and SharePoint, many of these successes have been showcased in Microsoft case studies. Recently Alan’s work has concentrated on SharePoint & Office 365 and the implementation of these technologies in organisations to enhance business processes and efficiency. Alan is currently working as Senior Consultant at Foundation SP, a SharePoint & Office 365 strategy and delivery company who were recently awarded Microsoft Partner of the year for portals & collaboration. Alan is also a regular speaker & blogger and has been a SharePoint MVP since July 2011.


Have you experience in recruiting apprentices and graduates in your company, do you agree with Alan - it’s dependent on scenarios? Comment below or join the conversation on twitter @TechNetUK.