Until a few weeks ago, few would have predicted that we would be in the midst of a global pandemic, with all the huge health, economic and societal implications that has brought with it. Clearly, this is a very uncertain time and the current focus is, rightly, on how the country gets through this crisis.
However, we also need to dedicate some bandwidth to planning ahead and thinking about the future, beyond the current situation. It may seem a long way off but we will eventually reach a new normal and, for QA, our mission of empowering people to fill their potential will be just as important as it was before.
Until the coronavirus, the skills shortage was consistently ranked among the top risks in business surveys. The UK’s high employment rate until now, while welcome, has meant it has been more difficult and expensive to attract and retain talent.
Those operating in professional services, like law firms, which trade on the experience and expertise of their people are no exception. It’s important to find the right talent for your firm, based not only on skills, but also cultural fit.
Where apprentices fit in
To practise as a solicitor in Scotland, you need to undergo the appropriate training and be accredited by the Law Society of Scotland.
However, law firms cannot and do not employ just solicitors. They need the administrative support and infrastructure that gives their solicitors the platform to undertake client-facing work: operations, claims handlers, marketing, IT and, of course, a finance department to ensure those billable hours get charged!
In all these non-solicitor roles, modern apprenticeships can be the ideal solution to meet demand. They are a fantastic way for law firms to upskill eager local talent with the specific skills their business needs, offering the mutually beneficial outcome of bridging the skills shortage and helping to provide young people with the chance to lay the foundations for a successful career.
Apprentices have the opportunity to kickstart a career after school or college, offering hands-on work experience and the chance to gain a range of recognised qualifications. For many, it will be a far better alternative to university, and it comes without the considerable costs associated with higher education.
There are also significant benefits for the employer. While modern apprentices may not have all the required skills initially, they will learn quickly if they have the raw talent and enthusiasm, which most do. The skills they learn can be matched to the employer’s needs and, as the apprentice develops and is able to take on more responsibility, this will benefit the firm in the long term.
Time to join in?
Sponsoring a modern apprenticeship is a significant investment, particularly for smaller businesses. However, it will be of little surprise that investing in someone’s personal development brings increased job satisfaction and loyalty. As a result, apprentices are committed to their employer and supportive of their business objectives, meaning they tend to stay for longer, reducing recruitment costs.
Apprentices also bring a fresh approach. Modern apprentices come from a range of backgrounds, and the research tells us that diversity brings an increased variety of perspectives and boosts creativity and productivity. Ultimately, this will result in better client and business outcomes.
These benefits are increasingly being recognised, with the number of modern apprenticeships in Scotland, and the uptake by law firms, growing every year.
Harper Macleod is a pioneer, with a longstanding modern apprenticeship programme supported by QA. The firm has brought through 70 apprentices in the last decade, and 48 since 2017, in areas such as file management, personal injury and IT. Retention rates are strong – 10% of the firm’s total headcount are current or former apprentices – and chief executive Martin Darroch has previously spoken about how proud the firm is of its programme (scottishbusinessnews.net, 6 March 2020).
Harper Macleod is not alone. Jackson Boyd, Ashurst, TC Young, Burness Paull, Turcan Connell and Morton Fraser have their own successful modern apprenticeship programmes, built around their own specific business needs.
We understand that the immediate priority for Scottish law firms will be navigating the current situation. However, once we come out the other side, we hope to see many more firms realise the benefits of a properly resourced modern apprenticeship programme that helps bring through the next generation of talent.