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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
How HSS Hire uses apprenticeships as part of its recruitment strategy
Article Type: HR at work From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 10, Issue 2
Short case studies and research papers that demonstrate best practice in HR
HSS Hire is a UK-based, national supplier of tool and equipment hire and related services. It has been working with big business, trade and DIY customers since 1957 and is firmly established as one of the UK’s leading hire service providers, dominant in the “maintain and operate” sectors as a logistical and technical partner to major players in infrastructure, utilities and facilities management.
With a nationwide network of almost 250 branches served by a number of strategically located super centers, our distinctive “hub and spoke” operational approach is supported by equally progressive approaches to logistics, systems, people and management. We are committed to the provision of best in class service, investing in the recruitment and retention of a competent, confident workforce in order to do so.
A long-term recruitment view
HSS recruits for longevity; we like to “grow our own” and we actively support the development of our colleagues so that, wherever possible, we can recruit and promote internally. However, we also recruit externally with great success using a robust multi-step assessment process that is specifically tailored to the role for which we are recruiting. It is all about managing our resources to make sure we have the people we need today and that we are ready with the people we will need tomorrow, as well as always having the best person for the job so we can offer our customers the best service and expertise.
Our technical apprenticeship scheme builds on and supports these fundamental approaches, offering young people a job as well as a career and training with HSS, but it is also something we are really proud to say we do.
The need for technical skills
One of the most fundamentally important roles at HSS is that of the fitter or technical engineer. They put every item of equipment through an extensive “test and run” procedure before and after every hire period, as well as providing an equally comprehensive maintenance function to ensure that equipment can be repaired or reconditioned where needed. Our fitters are responsible for ensuring a continuing supply of equipment that is safe, compliant and ready for the next customer to use – which is, in essence, the whole premise of the hire business.
However, technical engineering is very much a specialized occupation and there is by no means a surfeit of people suitably skilled for these positions – in 2009, the UK government announced that the engineering industry needed to recruit almost 600,000 extra skilled engineers by 2017 to meet economic demand. Furthermore, the UK hire industry is perhaps not typically perceived as offering exciting or sophisticated career opportunities. There is a misguided view that it is somewhat old-fashioned and male orientated, which offers some specific challenges in trying to attract and recruit suitably skilled technical engineers.
A progressive apprenticeship package
There is no doubt that HSS Hire will always need a good team of highly skilled fitters and, in line with the internal development focus in our general recruitment strategy, in early 2010 we decided that the best way to ensure this was to grow our own by introducing the HSS Technical Apprenticeship program.
Aimed at offering young people a practical post-school option as well as upskilling a new generation of fitters and technical engineers, the HSS apprenticeship is a three-year, fully-funded program. Apprentices receive on the job training with our experienced fitters and are supported by a personal mentor. Working with Construction Skills, the Sector Skills Council and Industry Training Board for the UK construction industry, they also attend structured residential study sessions that will see them achieve NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in plant maintenance. And, on successful completion of the program, we will offer them a permanent job.
It is a comprehensive scheme with a clearly structured career path that offers real progression from training to a permanent job supported by formal qualifications and one of the industry’s most generous apprenticeship salary packages. We felt it was important to invest in a program that demonstrated how much we value this role within our business and to help attract some great quality candidates.
Tailoring the approach to young people
We launched a dedicated apprenticeship web site (www.hss.com/apprentice) and advertised the apprenticeship online, at local sixth form colleges and at technical colleges throughout the UK. More than 1,000 people applied for the 20 positions we were offering, which was a tremendous response and we were spoilt for choice. Why such interest? Our apprentices told us they had researched various schemes online and found ours to be “by far the best overall offer” giving them “the full package of experience, training and qualifications.” So getting the offer right has been key.
Having recruited our team of 20 apprentices, which includes boys and girls aged 16-24, getting the induction process and learning environment right was also imperative. We had run an earlier pilot scheme in which we learned that these young people have a different learning approach to adults and also need support in the ways of work, not just the technical theory. As a result, our apprentices have a very structured induction and are bought together in a “school” learning environment to better mirror what they have been used to. These study sessions include practical work on equipment we have donated to Construction Skills, so they will get a chance to learn on the equipment they will be working with on a day-to-day basis, and they also incorporate general work ethics such as time keeping.
Our apprentices have a weekly mentoring session to make sure they are on track and we have involved their families so they are aware of what is expected of the apprentices and can offer them support. It is about remembering these are young people, many fresh from school, and tailoring our approach accordingly.
A successful start to an ongoing program
We now have a team of 20 apprentices who have all fitted into the business well and are already a valued part of the teams in which they are working, making a real contribution to the maintenance of our equipment. We expect them to take on more responsibility and more technically demanding tasks as their apprenticeship progresses, ultimately becoming some of the best fitters in the industry.
From a more holistic point of view, not only are we ensuring, through the practical training and structured study elements of the program, that this population has the technical skills we demand, but also, by bringing them into the HSS family at such an early point in their career, we are aligning them to our culture and our values, ensuring they share our work ethics and have the right attitude to our business too.
With careful planning, investment and roll out, as well as engaging support throughout the business, the apprenticeship scheme has proven a great success and a perfect match to our overall recruitment strategy. We are already looking forward to the 2011 intake, when we plan to increase the number of places because of the high demand that we saw this time around, and we are looking at introducing apprenticeships in other key disciplines too.
Annie HaleHead of HR at HSS Hire.
About the author
Annie Hale has been Head of HR at HSS Hire since January 2010, having joined the company in 2008. She manages a team of 15 who are responsible for policies, employee relations, recruitment, retention strategies and reward and for putting in place practices, initiatives and a culture that enables HSS to get the best from its people. She started her career at Marks & Spencer working in HR on a commercial management gap year program. She went on to complete a management degree at UMIST before returning to M&S on its HR graduate training program. In 2005, she moved to O2 (Telefonica Group) as an HR consultant and in 2007 she joined Phones 4U as HR business partner. Annie Hale can be contacted at: email@example.com