The Apprentice - large companies don’t always offer the best training, says employment expert

Posted by er134 at Oct 29, 2014 11:02 AM |
University of Leicester academic challenges the politically predominant notion around training apprentices - that large companies do it best

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 29 October 2014

Small businesses are now employing more than half of the UK’s private sector workforce - and have been described by the current coalition government as the economy’s “engine for growth”.

When it comes to developing workforce skills however, some commentators have expressed concerns about small firms. These small companies often lack the capacity to provide structured training in line with conventional ‘good practice’ training models that exist in larger companies, and this can potentially act as a detriment to the apprentices working within them.

A new study led by Dr Daniel Bishop, Lecturer in Employment Studies at the University of Leicester’s School of Management, has systematically compared the effectiveness of apprenticeship training in companies of different sizes, in order to challenge the assumption that large companies offer the best training for apprentices.

The study, which is the first of its kind to look into how skills are formed by apprentices in companies of different sizes, focuses on those in mechanical engineering companies and how their experience of the apprenticeship differs depending on the size of their employer.

Dr Bishop said: “It is often assumed that larger companies are better at training their employees because they have access to more resources and greater infrastructure. However, the findings from my research on apprentices in engineering suggest that this isn’t always the case.

“While apprentices in larger companies do tend to enjoy a more structured and resource-intensive learning process, some individuals actually prefer and benefit from the more flexible, hands-on approach experienced in the small firm.

“Of course, this less structured working and learning environment doesn’t suit every individual; some will naturally prefer and benefit from more structure. But for the more confident apprentice, it offers greater choice than is normally available in larger companies.”

The initial findings of the project suggest:

  • The size of the organisation affects how apprenticeships are delivered
  • While bigger organisations can provide more structure and more resources to support the learning process, this does not necessarily mean that the process is more effective
  • Apprentices in small companies are more likely to experience a less formal and less structured training process. However, this is not necessarily disadvantageous when compared to the standardised approaches prevalent within larger organisations
  • The more flexible learning environment of the small firm offers learners greater opportunities to exercise their learning preferences

As a result of these findings Dr Bishop advised: “Policy makers should assist small companies in forming their own ‘expansive learning environments’ without assuming that a formal, highly structured training process is the only valid conduit for learning.”

Dr Bishop will be presenting more of his initial findings from the project at the forthcoming Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship conference in Manchester between 5-6 November.

The study is funded by a BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant, awarded by the British Academy.


Note to editors

For more information please contact Dr Dan Bishop via email

The British Academy for the humanities and social sciences. Established by Royal Charter in 1902. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence and high achievement in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value. For more information, please visit

Follow the British Academy on Twitter @britac_news

Read Dr Dan Bishop’s blog entry on the Management is too Important Not to Debate blog where he discusses in detail the companies that were studied in the project.

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