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Apprenticeships: Government could do better

By Emma Haslett Thursday, 09 February 2012

It’s the end of National Apprenticeship Week, and MT has spent plenty of time trumpeting the advantages of employing apprentices – particularly young ‘uns, considering unemployment among 16-24 year-olds is now well over a million.

Happily, stats by the National Apprenticeship Service suggest there will be an increase in apprenticeships over the next few months. 81% of employers apparently say the placements will play a ‘bigger part’ in their recruitment strategy in the future, while another three-quarters reckon that apprentices are ‘more important than ever’, despite the economic crisis.

Which all sounds tremendously positive – particularly considering a separate report by City & Guilds has shown the average apprentice puts £18 into the economy for every pound spent on them. But there’s a catch: the NAS only interviewed 349 business owners, which probably doesn’t give us a particularly broad cross-section of business’ views. Although to be fair, 81% is a pretty affirmative figure – so it’s certainly not worth discounting.

You’ve got to lend it to the Coalition: since it came into power, it’s put a lot of time and effort into championing apprenticeships, with a £50m fund to get the most disadvantaged youngsters into work, and Government’s (rather mysterious) Apprenticeship Training Agencies. But the whole apprenticeship thing hasn’t been universally popular. Figures by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development showed that a third of businesses have an apprenticeship scheme in place (although again, that sounds suspiciously high to us), but by all accounts, those not involved will take some convincing. As Jane Scott Paul, from the Association of Accounting technicians, points out, although Government funding has done a lot to encourage businesses to get involved, ‘many SMEs lack the resources to cover the costs of establishing programmes.’

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There’s also the small problem of businesses not being aware of quite how flexible the term ‘apprenticeship’ is. Scott Paul adds that ‘there is a significant lack of knowledge about the breadth of roles apprenticeships can cover – such as professions like accountancy.’ So there is still a need for the Government to provide more information to small businesses about apprenticeships, and how they can help.

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