9 Questions to Ask when Hiring your Next Trades Apprentice

woodwork apprenticeship

A good apprentice is, by all means, worth having.

You infuse fresh blood into your business at a low cost, free up your skilled staff for more important jobs and develop your team from the ground up to follow company culture. They have more energy, are eager to take initiative and lend new ideas. Most of all, you enhance your business's capabilities and get rewarded both, personally and financially.

The big question is: How do you know what qualities to look for when hiring one?

Hiring a wrong apprentice is a disaster waiting to unleash. With so many trades businesses considering expanding staff this New Year, here's a list of questions you might want to consider asking the next time you interview a potential apprentice to join your team.

1. Why did you choose this trade?

That's number 1. If the kid is doing it because their mum and dad think they should or they can't think of anything else to do or they are in it simply for the money, they will soon lose interest and might even come to a point where they would start hating it. While it can be a difficult one to answer, because let's be honest, many young people join a trade when they are not excelling at school, still there should be something they like about a particular trade they are getting themselves into.

2. How long were you with your previous employer?

Look for commitment. There can be good days at work and there can be a few bad ones. But what puts you above others is your willingness to push past those obstacles and keep going. If a 17 year old has already been at four different places before coming to you, get ready to say good bye before the month is over. If the reason for quitting is merely because they didn't like the work, well kid, you need to come up with something better.

3. Can you survive an hour without your phone?

Well that's not really a question, but it is in a way. Why? Because lack of seriousness on the part of the younger generation is turning out to be a big problem. Just asking this will give them an idea that hanging on their phones all day, is "Not On". They need to turn up every single day on time, buckle up and focus on work not on their news feed.

4. Do you like playing a sport?

Asking from references is a good idea but doesn't always work. However if a potential candidate can mention anything that demonstrates their ability to follow instructions and work as a team, is a big plus. They will have a life time to work independently, but for now, team work matters.

It can be sports, scouts, a band or something similar. Also, ask them if they are happy to keep their recreational activities for the weekends or after hours, as you don't want them to miss work due to this.

5. What does TAFE mean to you?

Let's talk attitude here. Becoming a qualified Tradie means putting a lot of years of hard work and commitment. A lot of kids start it, only to find the physical work too hard and keeping up with their TAFE too difficult, eventually changing their minds and dropping out in less than six months. This leaves you short on staff when you need them the most and having to start all over again. Willingness to stay true to their calling, do the tough yards and not just be given everything for nothing are a few things they should be at terms with.

6. Are you 'Ok' to do work that’s outside the job description?

This will tell you the difference between those who are solely motivated by a pay-check and those that are willing to make every minute of the day count. Apprenticeship is an opportunity to learn and grow, not just make money. If they say 'yes', this will show their passion to work with you and contribute to your success.

7. Have you ever been in a situation when you had to use your initiative?

Ask them to give you an example of this. Could be on a school project or a past job they did. This will show you how eager are they to do work on their own. How did they handle a challenging situation or when something went wrong? Better yet, think of a scenario you believe they will encounter and ask them how they would react in that situation. This will tell you if they have a proactive approach or a reactive approach.

8. How seriously do you take work place safety?

This is an industry with high physical injury risk. Be it playing with electricity, asbestos removal, working on heights or using power tools, safety is paramount. You need to make sure they understand the consequences of working unsupervised, not wearing the safety gear or getting too close when the other employee is busy running the grinder.

9. What will you do if you have finished your task and there is still time left?

Skills can be learned but good ethic is deep rooted in an individual. If they reply with things like checking on their phone or just wait to get assigned a new task you should think twice before taking them on. What you should be looking for is someone who likes to keep active on their own. May be tidy up the place they worked in, study for TAFE or chase the boss for more work is what you need.

Wrapping up with some bonus tips:

This is definitely not an all-inclusive list and since we don’t live in an ideal world, you might not be able to tick any candidate on all of the above. So prioritize qualities based on your business requirements.

With the on-going trades apprentice drought you don’t have too many to choose from.

A few add-ons. Don’t interview the apprentice alone. Get a panel to do it, so the other members might catch things that you may have missed. While you cannot know much about someone via social media, it’s worthwhile to look them up on Facebook and read the general nature of their posts. A questionnaire with simple math questions or may be some common sense question might tell you a few things.

Keep all questions open ended to give them a chance to express themselves. Just observing them talk will reveal a lot of things. Remember these are just young kids, with hardly any experience and several years ago you too were in their shoes looking for an opportunity to start somewhere.

If you have been through the attitude problem way too many times, try giving a chance to mature aged apprentices and you won’t be disappointed. Their years of life experience can turn out to be invaluable to your trades business.

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Wardah Wadood

Wardah Wadood

Content Manager and Community Strategist at i4Tradies | Social Media Evangelist | Writer | Editor