Apprenticeships are big news at the moment. Ed Miliband looks to secure votes by guaranteeing apprenticeships (if grades are achieved), whilst the coalition government pledges to fund three million apprenticeships through additional benefit capping.

Apprentices can form an essential part of an organisation’s talent pipeline, however in my experience I have witnessed many apprentice schemes being one-dimensional and overly-focussed on mechanical and electrical up-skilling. I contend that if we are to get the best out of our apprentice workforce a more far-reaching and holistic view is required from day one.

Any organisation that is on its lean journey and looking to plug apprentices into this needs to therefore take note. An over-riding criticism of lean is that tools and methodologies (5S, shadow-boards, kaizen workshops) take precedence over philosophy and culture. So perhaps the lesson to be taken here is this. A high-performance engine is great, but if the driver behind the wheel is not empowered to change gear as and when they deem it necessary, they might travel everywhere in first gear. This is where behavioural flexibility and emotional self-awareness becomes just as important as technical nous.

Daniel Goleman – crediting in popularising the concept of emotional intelligence – famously contended that any professional (such as an engineer) required an IQ of 115 to be able to function successfully within their role. Studies and research back this up. Goleman went on to conclude that no research exists that indicates having an IQ above this level predicts success in life or work. In short, 115 is a necessary level of IQ-however it is not sufficient to guarantee success beyond this. So individuals displaying an IQ of 116 are on par with those at 160.

Success beyond the 115 mark, Goleman contends, is then down to an individual’s emotional intelligence. EI becomes the key differentiator. Once more, research corroborates this. When we bring to mind the most effective leaders in the organisation it is rarely those with the biggest brains. It is those who can communicate their ideas effectively, empathise situationally, be assertive when appropriate, involve others in problem-solving and provide timely feedback.

EQ-i 2.0 model.

Organisations are starting to wake up to this and are looking to use this information intelligently. This means trying to find ways to shape behaviours early on in an employee’s career and developing the human side of the individual. With the apprentice population this means taking into account the modern working world and helping them become effective as early as possible.

Louise Edwards, principal consultant of Liberty Learning Solutions, captures this well. “Traditional firms can struggle with the mindset of Generation Z: apprentices are linked, instant and demanding. They are ultra-responsive and used to getting information immediately. Helping them connect with the organisation’s thinking is almost as important as task-accomplishment, so using tools that generate insights to promote personal accountability and stretch are vital. Emotional intelligence is a good starting point for action.”

Working closely with a progressive manufacturer some way on in its lean journey, we looked to move beyond the traditional fixation on attraction and recruitment of apprentices. We knew that to create a growth mindset – and for lean to work – leaders at all levels must be empowered to contribute and ensure they are influencing others to contribute also. It was essential that all team-members had a clear understanding of their contribution beyond implementing the system. Formal education was ineffectual in influencing hearts and minds. We knew that investment was required to help individuals understand how they contributed to the system and what may be holding them back. EI was the key to unlocking this.

We found that profiling an individual’s EI had multiple benefits.

Firstly it gave individual’s personal accountability by providing a framework to understand how our individual contributions were more or less effective. It also reassured team-members that the organisation was not trying to brainwash everyone into a way of behaving. Culture is created by a mass of individuals choosing to work in a certain way. It is a collection of explicit and implicit norms formed top-down, sideways and bottom-up. An organisational culture is fragile and simply cannot be safeguarded by applying pressure from the top down. To be effective and sustainable it needs to be built upon free-thinking, shared beliefs and perhaps the strongest motivator is our belief that we are valued in our contribution. This includes deciding whether the current system is the most effective way of operating. In effect, applying EI encouraged freedom of thought and action within the lean collective system. This is where an insight into an individual’s EI was able to pay dividends.

Emotional intelligence indicates the level of functioning at a social and emotional level. It is able to measure – through a self-perception diagnosis – how we index in composites such as self-regard, emotional self-awareness, empathy, assertiveness and emotional expression. How can this help? When we applied it to 50 manufacturing team-leaders, we found some similarities in profiles that were telling. Emotional expression was very low, as did empathy. Both dimensions under-indexed considerably versus the norm (when compared to professionals within UK/Ireland). In contrast, assertiveness and independence scored very highly, similarly over-indexing.

This may seem unremarkable when viewed in isolation but when viewed as a contributor to organisational culture the results take on new meaning. Consider the subscale interaction between these scores. Low levels of empathy – understanding and appreciating others – coupled with high levels of assertiveness – stating views in a forthright manner. We found that coaching was low down on Team-Leaders to-do lists; influencing and persuasion were also of a lower priority. Developing others was unnatural to this group who were energetic, task-focussed and strong-willed.

The EI profiling allowed a dialogue and understanding to emerge with TL’s. Different ways of behaving were discussed. It allowed a framework of discussion as well as training and development to equip TLs’ with tools to help them get the best from their team. Infact the lessons were so powerful it convinced the organisation this would be beneficial earlier in the employee lifecycle. Hence applying this to apprentices who could have their awareness raised and appreciate that it is the engagement/interpersonal dimension with others that bears results. How do I relate to others? How do I emotionally self-regulate? EI is developable (versus IQ, or personality), so displaying different behaviours can impact others and in turn impact our EI. A virtuous circle.

Applying the same EI profiling to apprentices we found a difference. Emotional expression (constructively stating emotions) scored highly as did interpersonal relationships (creating mutually satisfying relationships). The low-scoring dimensions were Independence (working freely away from others) and self-regard (assuredness, feelings of confidence). This information allowed us to understand that working collaboratively was a driver for this group, as was feeling connected socially to others and belonging to a meaningful institution. Lower levels of self-confidence are predictable given the age/experience of the group’s profile; however the emotional expression interaction allowed the organisation to find forums for the group to share their ideas and contribute at an early stage.

In summary, apprentices can often traditionally be subjected to a single track of development; the development of their technical competence and skills. This is necessary, but not sufficient in 2015. Equal consideration to the emotional intelligence dimension of their contribution is required. Not only does this provide the individual with education and information on how they prefer to communicate and interact, it also gives the organisation data on how best such a group can be managed. Progressive companies understand that they cannot wait until the individual has formulated mature views on the business before investment in personal effectiveness and style is given. A dual-track strategy is required immediately: technical and behavioural.

Mark Davies, HR director for companies such as Unilever, SCA and Nufarm captured this well: “Forward thinking companies understand apprentices schemes are a long-term investment. It isn’t just the recruitment, it is the programme they follow and the formation of a developmental mindset that determines their impact. It is the insights, mentoring and coaching that strengthens the talent pipeline and helps them realise their potential”.