Holt heads-up employer-led review of apprenticeships

Social entrepreneur and jeweller Jason Holt is to take charge of an employer-led review into how businesses can be encouraged to hire an apprentice.

Mr Holt, chief executive of Holts Group of Companies, will talk to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) about what the government can be doing to reduce bureaucracy and simplify the process for recruiting and training new apprentices.

Skills minister John Hayes, who announced the appointment, said: “I am delighted Mr Holt has agreed to lead this review.

“His experience, both as a business man and through running a training academy, gives him invaluable insight into the needs of both small businesses and apprentices.”

Mr Holt runs a number of organisations including Holts Lapidary, a jewellery manufacturer and retailer, Holts Academy of Jewellery, a not-for-profit training provider and Jewellery Innovations, a social enterprise for apprentices seeking work in UK manufacturing.

Mr Holt said: “At the end of the day, we have an economy which is 95 per cent composed of SMEs, yet only a tiny proportion take on apprentices.

“The majority of those are taken on by large business, so what can I recommend that the government do to change the system and make it the easiest possible?”

Mr Holt, who will present his review to ministers in May, says he didn’t know anything about the review before the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) asked him to be the lead employer.

“The first time I heard about it was when I had an approach from the apprenticeship unit at BIS and was asked if I would like to be the lead employer,” Mr Holt told FE Week.

Mr Holt says he is both “honoured” and “delighted” to be leading the research, although accepting the top position was a difficult decision.

“There are five businesses in the group company which I run and it’s a very, very busy time for us at the moment,” Mr Holt said.

“Not to be around as much as I would or should be, or would like to be for the businesses was a big decision, but I put a lot of thought into it and thought what a fantastic opportunity to make a hopefully meaningful contribution to a really important area of business – an area which I think is pivotal to business growth.”

The employer-led review will examine and build on a number of government initiatives designed to improve the apprenticeship programme for SMEs.

These include reducing the time taken to advertise an apprenticeship vacancy on the NAS website to within one month of an employer’s decision to take on an apprentice.

Mr Hayes said: “I want to ensure that small businesses can enjoy the multitude of benefits that apprentices can offer a company – including improved productivity and the chance to build a better-skilled and dedicated workforce.

“This review will play a vital role in achieving that aim.”

Other measures introduced by government include reducing the health and safety requirements imposed on providers by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), as well as simplifying the guidance available to SMEs and establishing a “dedicated team” at the NAS.

The employer-led review into SMEs and apprenticeships follows on from the Education and Skills Growth Review published by BIS last November.