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A New Era for Apprenticeships

By: David Way, Chief Executive of the National Apprenticeship Service
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - 10:13 GMT Jump to Comments

David Way, Chief Executive of the National Apprenticeship Service, writes about how important apprenticeship schemes are to the future of the UK economy.

It is fantastic news that large businesses like BAE Systems are expanding their Apprenticeship programmes.  More UK businesses than ever before are offering Apprenticeships because they are proven to offer a host of benefits ranging from improved productivity and competitiveness, to better staff retention and motivation.  Apprenticeships are increasingly been seen by employers across all sectors as a solution to attracting high quality new recruits. 

For a strong and growing economy we must have a high level of skills to meet employer demand and Apprenticeships are vital way of achieving this. The National Apprenticeship Service is not only committed to increasing the number and range of Apprenticeships on offer but also to ensuring the quality of Apprenticeships, which is so key to this growth.

A range of initiatives have recently been announced by the government to define a new era for Apprenticeships that firmly places the programme as the country’s gold standard for vocational training.  These include the introduction of more Higher Level Apprenticeships (up to degree level), plans to ensure every Apprenticeship meets rigorous new standards, the launch of a new financial incentive for small firms who hire their first apprentices and the introduction of a high profile national annual skills show, called WorldSkills UK - The Skills Show.  

Following Jason Holt’s recently published report “Making Apprenticeships More Accessible to Small and Medium Sized Enterprises”, we are also doing more to encourage smaller employers to become involved with Apprenticeships.

Most Apprenticeships in this country are offered by smaller businesses - 80% of apprentices in the UK are currently employed by businesses with less than 200 employees, which is very positive.*

They are great advocates and deliverers of skills training and have given so many young people life-changing experiences as they enter work for the first time. 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 career progression opportunities.

However, we know that there are many more smaller businesses that are missing out on these opportunities, 99% of businesses in the UK are small and medium sized (SMEs) but only around 10% of them currently employ apprentices, so there is lots of potential for growth.

We need to do much more if we are to offer all of those who want Apprenticeships high quality opportunities and the recommendations in the Holt review give us the opportunity to match together a whole new cohort of businesses and apprentices by bringing them together using our Apprenticeship vacancies online system.  This enables businesses to advertise their Apprenticeship job opportunities for free and find potential candidates who match their criteria.

One of the key issues Jason Holt highlighted in his review is that too few businesses know about the National Apprenticeship Service and the excellent work that we do.  This was a conscious decision taken at our launch three years a go, to promote the Apprenticeship brand itself, rather than the organisation behind the brand.  We recognise that now is the time to change that balance and promote our services too, so that businesses of all sizes have a better understanding of where they need to go for information.  As a result we will be enhancing our marketing activity aimed at smaller businesses, including publishing a simple guide for to show exactly what help is available to access Apprenticeships.

Following feedback from employers and Jason himself, we have already started to  implement changes, such as making it easier for more small and medium sized businesses that recruit young apprentices aged 16 to 24 to access the £1500 Apprenticeship Grant available to them (AGE 16 to 24). This incentive scheme for employers is designed to help up to 40,000 more SMEs to employ apprentices aged 16 to 24 in their business and we are expanding the scheme and simplifying the payment process.  There is now a single (rather than staged) £1,500 payment and the grant is now available for up to 10 apprentices per employer.

Although smaller businesses are still the priority, the grant has been extended to businesses with up to 1,000 employees and businesses that have not employed an apprentice in the last 12 months can also benefit. This move will support more young people to experience and benefit from the Apprenticeship programme than ever before.

We also recently established a dedicated Small Business Team within the National Apprenticeship Service, to provide a responsive and bespoke service to smaller businesses. We always endeavour to respond to every enquiry within two days, with many employers being called back on the same day. However, this is only a small part of the equation.  The wider further education sector - the network of Apprenticeship training providers and colleges who support businesses to recruit and train their apprentices - also has a vital role to play and they need to be as equally responsive to ensure businesses receive the best possible experience at each and every stage of their Apprenticeship journey.

I have spoken to Ministers about the Holt review and together we will embrace the recommendations, but we also recognise that the review is part of the bigger Apprenticeship picture and there are other areas we also need to consider to make Apprenticeships more accessible for smaller businesses.

There is a lot of momentum at present behind ensuring businesses feel real ownership of Apprenticeships.  Taking on board what they are telling us means we can be more confident that Apprenticeship programmes meet their needs, and have a positive impact on both the apprentice and the business.  We will simplify and speed up the process so that smaller organisations do not feel overwhelmed by bureaucracy.

Continuous improvement is something we always strive for and the review offers us some very practical ideas we can take forward.  The Holt review plays a significant part of our journey to continue to ensure that Apprenticeships are widely recognised as the gold standard of vocational learning and effectively fulfil the needs of businesses and young people.

For more information about recruiting apprentices, businesses can contact the National Apprenticeship Service on 08000 150 600 or visit www. apprenticeships.org.uk.

For more information about The Skills Show, which is being held at Birmingham NEC from 15-17 November, please visit www.theskillsshow.com.

*Source: UKCES 2009 National Employer Skills Survey

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