6 October 2014 Advice, Community

How to hire an apprentice

Ben Bengougam, vice-president, human resources EMEA at Hilton Worldwide, believes apprenticeships are a win-win – preventing a 'lost generation' of young people while addressing critical staffing needs. A year after the launch of the hotel chain’s Apprentice Academy, he outlines the process and the challenges involved.

Q. How have you found the first year of the Hilton Apprenticeship Academy? What does it offer?

A. We launched the Hilton Apprenticeship Academy in 2012 with the aim of attracting young, energetic people into an industry with long-term and varied career opportunities. Participants focus on one of six areas: professional cookery, front desk, food and beverage service, multi-skilled hospitality service, and exercise and fitness. The scheme is fully funded, including tuition fees and travel expenses to additional workshops and events, plus participants receive a salary while in the programme.

We received approximately 5,000 applications this year and exceeded our aims, placing 115 apprentices, 25 at a time, in roles at 32 locations across the country. The first group of apprentices complete their course in October and we’re offering all of them continued employment with Hilton Worldwide.

Q. How did you decide which areas of the business to include in the programme and how did you choose locations?

A. Throughout the process of designing and implementing the scheme we were very much led by business need. We worked with our hotel operators to identify where there was a skills gap, focused our apprenticeship recruitment on filling this need, and matched each apprentice individually to the hotel and role we felt would best suit them. 

Q. Hilton previously ran a chef apprenticeship programme – how did that experience help?

A. Our Chef Apprenticeship Academy, which is now part of the wider apprenticeship scheme, trained more than 60 apprentices and more than 95 per cent of participants secured permanent employment. This gave us a strong platform to effectively engage multiple properties and coordinate the wider scheme centrally. It also helped us to recognise the importance of preparing our hotels for how they can help new apprentices, many of whom haven’t previously been in a working environment, to hit the ground running. Fostering positive relationships between existing hotel team members and apprentices is vital.

Q. How did you select your training provider?

A. We knew it was important that we partnered with the right training provider: it took us nine months to choose. We worked closely with the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) during the tender process, narrowing it down to three suppliers. We eventually selected Lifetime UK as it was willing to work closely with us and be flexible about our needs, helping us to devise a programme that mixed on-the-job training from professionally qualified experts and mentors with development workshops and master classes. We combined Lifetime UK’s experience and advice with our knowledge of the business.

Q. What was the biggest challenge?

A. There have been many challenges for the team running the programme. They had to ensure the scheme worked across all regions and functions – not an easy task when recruiting for more than 46 properties. In implementing the scheme we had to demonstrate to the hotels the benefits that they would see in the long term from having an apprentice. However, we now have so many examples of how it’s worked well for our properties that this won’t be a problem next year.

Q. How are you making sure that potential applicants hear about the opportunities available?

A. Our approach has evolved over time. We’ve used online job boards, including Lifetime Zone and the NAS website, as well as fostering partnerships with Jobcentre Plus and various connected sites. We’ve also trialled specialist sites such as, as well as advertising opportunities on our own site. In addition to attending a number of careers fairs, we’ve used our career-focused Twitter and Facebook pages.

Q. Is the cost of hiring an apprentice worth it?

A. We are confident that the investment we make in hiring and training our apprentices is justified by the return. Our focus now is ensuring we keep those apprentices in the business, so that our investment grows in the long term.

Q. What would be your advice to other CBI members considering hiring apprentices?

A. My number one piece of advice would be to engage with the NAS, which will provide invaluable support in deciding on a model and supplier that will work for you.

Second, don’t develop your programme in an HR silo. Ensure you are working closely with all aspects of your company in order to meet the needs of the business. Investing in this scoping exercise in the first instance will pay dividends later.

Third, it’s important to keep an eye out for best practice examples. Companies have so much to learn from each other in the area of apprenticeships. Again, the NAS can provide opportunities to meet with like-minded HR professionals from different sectors to share experiences.