Hosting apprenticeships at Sheffield Archives and Local Studies (SALS)

What were the strategic and environmental drivers for taking on apprentices?

Sheffield Archives and Local Studies (SALS) have always offered work experience but only on a short term basis. Apprenticeships were a way of developing work experience to provide a year-long structured programme, especially to those who might not have considered a career in archives or libraries. SALS also wanted to broaden the staff base even if only on a temporary basis.

SALS have employed four apprentices, two of which came through the Sheffield Council Apprenticeship Schemes. These apprentices were appointed as part of two successful cataloguing bids from the National Cataloguing Grants scheme, both of which had included apprentices as part of the matched funding.

Recruiting and training apprentices

For the Sheffield Council Apprenticeship Scheme candidates were selected in line with standard council recruitment processes. One other apprentice was recruited via an organisation called Jobsteps, which finds meaningful employment for disadvantaged individuals and those with complex barriers - one apprentice had Asperger's Syndrome around which SALS was able to develop a suitable work programme. The fourth came via the Government's National Apprenticeship Scheme, administered locally by the council in Sheffield and was a graduate.

Applicants came from a range of backgrounds and the CVs were mixed in terms of educational achievement and experience. SALS took advantage of the interview process to understand what potential candidates wanted to get from the work and what they wanted to do in the future, as well as understanding if they would fit into the team. Interviews were informal but were effective in assessing those candidates who had perhaps not 'sold themselves' well on paper.

Training involved an initial induction including understanding the purpose and work of SALS. The apprentice shadowed a member of staff each week on different tasks before working on their own.

What role did apprentices play in the service?

Apprentices are involved in a number of activities:

  • routine administrative tasks e.g. filing, dealing with post, photocopying and organising weekly van deliveries from the off site store
  • customer service including document issue from the Strong Room, reception duties especially during events (e.g. signing in and taking money), some counter duty at the Local Studies Library
  • developmental work - typing up old catalogues for import into CALM cataloguing system, digitisation of images and documents for online use, listing oral history tapes. This work often fitted in with cataloguing projects to which two of the apprentices were attached
  • Conservation and preservation - again often as part of the cataloguing projects on which they were working, for example taking out old staples, repackaging, cleaning, working alongside the conservator on repackaging and cleaning

What benefits were there for SALS?

There are many advantages to employing apprentices:

  • they provided administrative support which freed up staff to do more professional work
  • they helped with developmental work especially around digitisation, which has really propelled digital work forward e.g. typing up of catalogues, populating the CALM system
  • the staff base - apprentices came from a wide range of backgrounds and communities in Sheffield
  • some unexpected outcomes were noted. For example, one apprentice came from an immigrant community and she developed a personal interest in how her community came to Sheffield. This provided the basis for the SALS to develop work around different communities in Sheffield (e.g. research guides on Yemeni, Somali etc. communities in Sheffield)

How did the apprentices benefit from the experience?

Firstly, they were well positioned to gain a formal qualification. Three apprentices undertook NVQs in Business and Administration under a day release scheme whilst at SALS. The NVQ was very practically based so the apprentices were able to use their experience at SALS to meet the requirements of the NVQ, demonstrating these transferable skills in areas such as team working, customer service, archiving (in a general sense rather than professional sense), and office administration.

The apprentices also experienced coming to work on a long-term basis and all the consequent demands such as coming to work on time, working in a structure, and spending a full week working.

Working with catalogue numbers, bar code numbers, using card indexes in the Local Studies Library, and shelving library books vastly improved the numeracy and literacy of one apprentice with the help of the NVQ trainer. Applying the skills in the workplace both motivated her learning and improved her employability.

What resources were required?

The wages for one apprentice was £6,000 per year from SALS with the remainder paid by the council. This £6,000 was part of the matched funding for a cataloguing bid to which one apprentice post was attached.

 Apprentices were provided with their own PC, desk and in-out tray in the general office to give them a sense of ownership and their own place.

Staff time was also a major resource. This included preparing many small projects or work packages which the apprentices could work through themselves once fully trained. Initially the apprentices required intensive management by staff although once they were fully trained staff spent a couple of hours a week checking work and setting up new tasks. This was largely done by project staff on cataloguing projects to which the apprentices were assigned or absorbed by current staff. Staff also held monthly meetings with the apprentices to discuss any problems and used the annual appraisal system to monitor progress. 

There was always a risk that management time could increase rapidly if there was any sickness, capability issues, or disciplinary matters although this was not an issue for SALS. 

How would SALS like to develop future involvement with apprentices?

SALS would like to take on more apprentices in the future but staff numbers have decreased over the last few years due to budget cuts and it would be difficult to would manage another apprentice in the medium term unless through a grant-funded project.

What did SALS learn?

  • Structure and presentation are important
  • You need to create the boundaries and structure within which apprentices will work 
  • Be absolutely clear about what you want them to do. The work and purpose needs to be clear for you and them
  • Prepare in advance the work packages, projects and training for them with a clear timetable for the first few weeks to foster a sense of sense purpose 
  • Make sure they feel part of the team