Managing an apprentice

Use this guidance while managing your apprentice. Refer to your own departmental HR policies for advice on topics such as reasonable adjustments, annual leave, sick leave and performance in the same way as they apply to other employees on a short term fixed term contract.

October 2022 update

Thank you for supporting the GCS Apprenticeship scheme. This year, we have 37 apprentices joining 20 departments and public bodies across the Government Communication Service (GCS).

Having an apprentice is a rewarding experience for the organisation, for you as a line manager, and for the apprentice.  As a line manager,  you are actively helping someone to build their career. It is where you can really make a difference in developing someone’s skills to become a communications professional and future leader in the GCS.

On this page:


Scheme outline

The apprenticeship is an alternative route to learning, providing a brilliant opportunity for those considering a career change and school leavers to learn and qualify while they work.

Our apprenticeship aims to bring talented people into GCS who would not have previously considered a career in government. The scheme is a development programme and involves having a full-time job, as well as working through the Level 4 Public Relations and Communications Assistant apprenticeship standard.

The apprenticeship programme runs for 18 months, during which participants will experience work in different communications teams across government departments. They will have the chance to be involved and take ownership of their own projects, as well as receive world-class training led by GCS and our apprenticeship training providers – JGA.

The GCS has been awarded the best apprenticeship employer 2021 by PRCA (Public Relations and Communications Association) for a second time. Line Managers are given a rewarding role helping kick-start someone’s career, foster new talent into the profession and work first-hand on our award-winning programme.

Support from GCS

The Professional Standards Team centrally manage the apprenticeship, working with the training provider to ensure learners are on track.

The Professional Standards Team at GCS will support apprentice learning by arranging the following activities:

  • GCS Induction
  • GCSI Introduction to Government Communications course
  • Full access to the GCS Academy
  • GCS Apprentice Ambassador Network
  • GCS mentors 
  • Networking opportunities

Key information

Due to the pandemic of the coronavirus (COVID-19), you need to speak to your apprentice about their flexibility to work from home as well as from the office, in line with government guidance and your department’s working policy. Discuss travel and location with your apprentice as soon as possible.

This is what managers need to know:

  • ​Duration: Apprentices are brought in on 18-month contracts. This includes 12 to 15 months for training delivery and 3 months to complete their End Point Assessment
  • Study: Apprentices will complete a Level 4 Public Relations and Communications Assistant standard
  • Off-the-job training: This must make up at least 20% of the apprentice’s working hours. This is equivalent to one day a week.
  • Rotations: Apprentices are required to rotate at least once during their 18 months to get experience in another MCOM (Modern Communications Operating Model) area. You must ensure the role will expose the apprentice to the knowledge and skills outlined in the standard.
  • Monthly coaching sessions: Line managers are expected to join the last 10 minutes of their apprentice’s monthly coaching sessions with the training provider.
  • Quarterly formal progress reviews: Line managers are expected to attend quarterly formal learner reviews with their apprentice and the training provider.
  • Travel costs: Departments are expected to cover the travel costs for their apprentices should they be required to travel for training.
  • If the apprentice fails any element of their End Point Assessment, the individual department will be required to pay for the resit.

Your role as an apprentice line manager

As a line manager, your role is vital to engage, motivate and stretch the capability of GCS apprentices. Their contribution is a business benefit to the department as well as themselves.

Before your apprentice starts their new role make sure that you:

  • understand the requirements, the apprenticeship standard and requirements of the End Point Assessment 
  • understand what knowledge, skills and behaviours the apprentice is required to demonstrate and ensure these are integrated into their work plan
  • understand the commitment statement which will be issued by the training provider
  • understand the apprentice’s learning plan which will be issued by the training provider
  • be aware of scheduled meetings you are required to attend with the training provider
  • be aware of your apprentice’s training schedule and ensure work activities are worked around this.

Plan their induction

Give your apprentice a full departmental induction over their first four weeks. This should include:

  • an introduction to colleagues and the team
  • an assigned team buddy for day to day support
  • A tour of facilities/IT guidance
  • gaining an understanding of the role of their team, the department and how this fits in with GCS
  • completion of health and safety courses
  • explanation of the Civil Service Code, and your department’s culture and values and what is expected of employees.

When your apprentice is at work

As a line manager your role is to guide them through their placement within the GCS and oversee their day to day activities. Their experience within the department needs to be driven by the apprentices themselves, with your help to shape that experience. The apprentice will need time to study, complete assignments, meet with their skills coach, as well as learn both on and off the job. To help your apprentice:

  • Be aware of their schedule and learning plan, ensure work tasks are built around their schedule
  • Help your apprentice plan their work accordingly
  • Demonstrate enthusiasm about learning, your department and the profession
  • Identify shadowing and other development opportunities, such as taking on projects and attending meetings
  • Encourage them to make most of the GCS Academy and the Civil Service Learning platform
  • Set up a timetable for the first two weeks which sets out the key meetings, and people they can have one-to-ones with. Send invites for these meetings and share calendars.

It is important both you and your apprentice meet the skills coach regularly and meetings are not cancelled, and that you discuss any plans with them that may impact deadlines and agreed timelines. 

Be inclusive

Inclusion is the responsibility of everyone in the workplace and can happen daily in every interaction with your colleagues. You can strive for inclusion by creating an environment where everyone has a sense of belonging, connection and community at work. You can create an inclusive workplace by:

  • Checking if your apprentice has any disabilities, many disabilities are invisible. If yes, ensure adjustments are in place if necessary.
  • Depending on their needs, some colleagues may like video with subtitles, some may prefer a phone call, some may prefer an email with text in a certain size.
  • When you start your conversation, ask each other “What can I do to make our meeting comfortable for you?”
  • Encourage the apprentice to bring their ‘whole self’ to work, and the importance of doing so.
  • Encourage the apprentice to contribute in meetings, drawing on their diverse points of view.
  • Complete the ‘Mental Health at Work’ and ‘Inclusion in the Civil Service’ course on Civil Service Learning to support your apprentice.
  • Advise your apprentices to consult your departmental intranet to find networks such as faith networks, wellbeing and disability. 

Development and one-to-ones

Developing the apprentice is the responsibility of both the training provider and you as the line manager. It is important to ensure your apprentice gains a good level of insight into the wider GCS profession.

You can help develop your apprentice by:

  • scheduling and maintaining regular one-to-ones with your apprentice separate to their monthly learner review
  • set clear targets, objectives and a development plan for the apprentice and help them to understand how to show their potential
  • adapt any existing or repetitive roles by increasing their responsibility over projects
  • reviewing performance regularly through objectives, departmental probation and performance management systems and reviews
  • encouraging apprentices to complete GCS mandatory learning
  • encouraging your apprentice to access GCS Academy courses and read the relevant guidance on Modern Communications Operating Model.
  • ensure apprentices gain a range of experience in line with the GCS MCOM model by arranging appropriate rotations throughout the department.

Have at least one career conversation with your apprentice, and consider future opportunities within your team which your apprentice could apply for. You can signpost them to the GCS Career Framework.


Apprentice rotations

We expect all apprentices to rotate at least once during their 18 months. Apprentices should only be rotated into teams that will allow them to meet the knowledge, skills and behaviours outlined in the Public Relations and Communications Standard. 

When rotating your apprentice you must:

  • Ask for a role description from the new team and be satisfied the role meets the apprenticeship standard.
  • Ensure the team are brought up to speed on your apprentices current learning and performance, outlining what the apprentice needs to focus on in their new placement.
  • Ensure the new team are aware of the apprenticeship timelines, in particular the need to plan a project as part of the End Point Assessment.
  • You should be satisfied that the team will be able to source a project to support the End Point Assessment
  • Consider if you will continue to line manage your apprentice when they move to their new team. If not, you will need to signpost the new apprentice to this webpage, and notify the GCS Apprenticeship Team of new line manager details by emailing gcs-apprenticeship@cabinetoffice.gov.uk.
  • Apprentices are required to stay in one team for at least 14 weeks, and should be in their final team at least 3 months before they enter gateway. This ensures they are comfortable with the team who will lead them through their End Point Assessment.

Qualification overview

GCS Apprentices complete the Level 4 Public Relations & Communications Assistant Standard. This apprenticeship standard outlines the knowledge, skills and behaviours that apprentices must demonstrate to be judged competent as a Public Relations Assistant.

At the end of the scheme, apprentices complete an End Point Assessment which consists of  distinct assessment methods:

  1. Knowledge test
  2. Project report, presentation and questioning

The department must be able to provide the apprentice with a project for their End Point Assessment. 

The apprentice cannot start the project until the employer, training provider, the apprentice and the End Point Assessment organisation all agree the apprentice is ready. The skills coach will be able to give you more information on this. 

If the apprentice fails any element of the assessment, the individual department will be required to pay for the resit.

Each learner who successfully completes their apprenticeship will be eligible to apply for a membership of the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA).


Apprenticeship delivery and learning schedule

All training elements of the apprenticeship will be delivered by JGA through seminars and monthly coaching sessions. The apprenticeship will be delivered virtually for the first quarter using Microsoft Teams. We will review the method of delivery on a quarterly basis and write out to you if we move to face-to-face delivery. 

JGA will deliver 10 modules, each module will be delivered through 2 group seminars. Apprentices are required to attend both seminar sessions for each module and should plan annual leave around the learning schedule. Your apprentice will be asked to attend a morning or afternoon session on the following dates, details of which will be sent by JGA:

Module 1: 7 December 2021 and 14 December 2021
Module 2: 11 January 2022 and 18 January 2022
Module 3: 8 February 2022 and 15 February 2022
Module 4: 8 March 2022 and 15 March 2022
Module 5: 5 April 2022 and 12 April 2022
Module 6: 10 May 2022 and 17 May 2022
Module 7:  7 June 2022 and 14 June 2022
Module 8:  5 July 2022 and 12 July 2022
Module 9:  9 August 2022 and 16 August 2022
Module 10: 6 September 2022 and 13 September 2022


Off-the-job training

There is a requirement that all apprentices spend 20% of their learning time developing their skills through off-the-job training. This is equivalent to one day a week. Apprentices will be required to keep a record of this, and will be reflected in your apprentices Workplace Training Plan which will be provided by JGA.

Off-the-job training may include almost any type of managed learning activity, and happens outside of the normal day-to-day working environment. An apprentice’s off-the-job-training will include learning resources and activities provided and delivered by JGA, but it can also include learning opportunities that happen naturally within the workplace. The activities should expose apprentices to the knowledge, skills and behaviours set out in the apprenticeship standard. You can learn more about off-the-job training on GOV.UK.

Here are some examples of off-the-job training:

  • completing course assignments
  • providing the apprentice with guided mentor
  • departmental training to develop skills that are related to the apprenticeship
  • providing shadowing opportunities for your apprentice
  • encouraging your apprentice to access GCS Academy courses and webinars (read, watch, do) and read the relevant guidance on Modern Communications Operating Model (MCOM) guidance online
  • encourage your apprentice to access the Civil Service Learning platform.

The training provider will help by:

  • helping you map the objectives of the activity to the criteria published within the apprenticeship standard to ensure it can count
  • helping you to capture the right information from the activity for each apprentice and record the learning within their learning record.

Performance

Line managers are responsible for following up with the apprentices on their assignments, to ensure they progress on the GCS apprenticeship. JGA will also report progress to GCS on a bi-weekly basis, flagging any concerns raised. You will receive communication from JGA Ltd if your apprentice has not been attending mandatory workshops or handing in assignments.

If your apprentice is not performing well in the workplace or is not completing their assignments on time, you should flag your concerns with both JGA and GCS and follow your department’s performance management policy.


Towards the end of the apprenticeship

Apprentices have been brought into departments through fair and open competition on Fixed Term Appointment contracts. This means they can apply for internal roles at stage 3 following the completion of the scheme. Apprentices should complete their apprenticeship before securing another role, (or demonstrate a strong level of commitment to completing the programme in a timely way) as this can affect progress on the apprenticeship.

We aim for all our apprentices to apply for roles in the GCS upon completion of their apprenticeship, hopefully on promotion to Assistant Information Office (AIO) and Information Office (IO) roles, but we cannot guarantee roles at the end of the apprenticeship.

GCS will help by: 

  • Identifying relevant vacancies
  • Running a competency workshop
  • Other tailored workshops dependant on cohort needs
  • Application form support
  • Career conversations

Line managers can help by: 

  • Identifying relevant vacancies in the department 
  • Encouraging apprentices to complete success profile training
  • Discussing career aspirations in one-to-ones 
  • Helping the apprentice identify their key achievements 
  • Helping the apprentice understand Civil Service behaviours and Success Profiles

Hold an ‘end of placement’ interview

The Professional Standards Team will upload an exit interview template and an appraisal form to complete towards the end of each placement. This should be completed each time the apprentice moves into a new team during the apprenticeship.

Be prepared to feedback to your apprentice on:

  • How well do they think they have met their objectives?
  • What have been their main achievements?
  • What projects have they completed or contributed to?
  • How well have they performed?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What areas of development should they focus on  they for the future?

This will:

  • Help you identify the benefits the organisation has gained from employing the apprentice and how they have helped to meet the team’s objectives
  • Benefit the apprentice by focusing on what they have achieved and how they have developed themselves – this reflective process will be useful when applying for further employment.

Final steps for end of placement:


Useful contacts

Please note, you will be in contact mostly with the Skills Coach from JGA. The Professional Standards Team will write out to you with key updates and when concerns have been raised. See below a list of contact points you can reach out to during the apprenticeship.