Holt Review of Apprenticeships for SMEs

Jason Holt’s review sets out what we can do to encourage many more smaller businesses to become involved with apprenticeships; it is a chance to refresh and streamline the service that we provide. In particular, the report has highlighted that we need to make businesses more aware of the support that the National Apprenticeship Service and others can give to make taking on apprentices much easier.

Eighty per cent of apprentices in the UK are currently employed by businesses with fewer than 200 employees. These businesses are great advocates and deliverers of skills training and have given many young people life-changing experiences as they enter work.

They recognise that apprenticeships are an extremely effective way for employers to tap into raw talent, up-skill their staff and grow their business, as well as offering young people high skills levels and life-changing career opportunities.

However, many smaller businesses are missing out on these opportunities: 99 per cent of businesses in the UK are small and medium sized (SMEs) but only about 10 per cent currently employ apprentices.

The Holt review gives us the opportunity to match a new cohort of businesses and apprentices by bringing them together on our free apprenticeship vacancies online system.

Too few businesses know about NAS and the excellent work that we do. This was a decision taken at our launch three years ago; that we would promote the apprenticeship brand itself, rather than NAS, the organisation behind the brand. We recognise that now is the time to promote our services too, so that businesses of all sizes have a better understanding of where they need to go for information.

We plan to enhance our marketing activity aimed at smaller businesses, including publishing a simple guide to show exactly what help is available to access apprenticeships.

We have already started to implement changes, such as making it easier for more SMEs that recruit young apprentices to access the £1,500 apprenticeship grant (AGE 16-24). This incentive scheme is designed to help up to 40,000 more SMEs to employ apprentices aged 16 to 24; we are expanding the scheme and simplifying the payment process. There will now be a single (rather than staged) payment and the grant will now be available for up to 10 apprentices per employer.

Although smaller businesses are still the priority, the grant will also be extended to businesses with up to 1,000 employees and businesses that have not employed an apprentice in the past 12 months.

We also recently established a dedicated small business team. We try to respond to every enquiry within two days, with many employers being called back the same day. However, this is only a small part of the equation. The wider FE sector – apprenticeship training providers and colleges – also has a vital role to play.

The review is part of the bigger apprenticeship picture. We also need to consider extending Group Training Agencies (GTA) and Apprenticeship Training Agencies (ATA).

GTAs are employers who work together to organise their apprenticeships, sharing training processes, facilities and costs. Some smaller businesses can be deterred from taking on apprentices because they are not confident that they will have enough work or resources to support the apprentice for the whole of their apprenticeship. The key feature of the ATA approach is that apprentices are recruited and employed by the agency, but then work in host businesses where they can achieve the work-related elements of their apprenticeship.

The Holt review helps us to ensure that apprenticeships are widely recognised as the gold standard of vocational learning and to effectively fulfil the needs of businesses and young people.


David Way, chief executive, National Apprenticeship Service


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  1. Do we have any evidence that shows that the grants make a difference? In discussing the reasons why SME refuse to take on a young person. Holt wrote: the take-up of AGE seems to be indicating that the overall
    offer is not sufficiently attractive to smaller business”.