Jason Holt’s 2012 report for government on getting more businesses taking on apprentices puts him in good position to assess the situation today. He considers the programme’s current situation and its future.
When I spoke to members of the AELP at their annual conference, I was asked to give an employer’s perspective on the future of apprenticeships and traineeships.
With a background as an employer, running my family’s jewellery business, but also now as a provider, running an academy offering diplomas, short courses, traineeships and apprenticeships, I feel well-equipped to comment on the sector, and the issues surrounding it.
As an employer I’ve always seen the value of apprenticeships. In my jewellery business almost half our staff are apprentices. At Holt’s Academy, the not-for-profit training enterprise I set up to reinvigorate the jewellery industry, we have seen hundreds of jewellery, business and technology apprentices go through our doors.
Transformation of apprenticeships through Trailblazers has been supported and investment has increased
This commitment and passion for apprenticeships, led me to accept a role as the apprenticeship ambassador for small business. I found that while 99 per cent of businesses in the UK are small and medium-sized enterprises, only 10 per cent of those have apprentices.
If we can get that to 20 per cent we would have the lowest rates of unemployment in Europe. It is a challenge well worth tackling.
In the last few years there have been great improvements.
The government’s commitment to apprenticeships was strong and consistent through the last parliament and the Ministerial appointments recently don’t seem to have dampened it. The transformation of apprenticeships through Trailblazers has been supported and investment has increased.
Introducing and retaining the AGE grant has been a very visible example of that, helping more small businesses take on their first apprentice. The introduction and expansion of higher apprenticeships allows young people to have a credible alternative to university and we are seeing employers like PWC, Lloyds Banking Group, Rolls Royce and BAE offering apprenticeships alongside graduate programmes.
We have seen the four big employer bodies; the CIPD, FSB, BCC and the CBI all actively working to raise awareness of the benefits of apprenticeships with their members. Employers are not just listening, they are talking to each other to learn what works and get tips and advice under the Apprenticeship Makers scheme. But, as ever, there is always more to do. The ambition is to create 3m apprentices. We have done really well to get small businesses thinking about apprenticeships and we’ve seen large employers engaging in greater numbers than ever before. Our next challenge is the medium businesses. We will only succeed in this if we get to a steady state quickly, and stay there. We have had many changes over the years and we need time for these to bed in and take effect. Changes not only disrupt well-working systems but confuse employers and risk disengagement.
This consistency theme continues around funding. The economy and the funding challenges faced by the FE sector require us to be prudent with investment. I remain convinced that we need a clear and consistent message to all businesses on the required level of employer investment, cash and in-kind, if we are to make it easier for them to engage.