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Is the Government apprenticeship strategy up to the job?

Jo Sellick
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Brexit has, understandably, dominated the political agenda since the referendum and the government has now begun to focus its efforts on negotiating an acceptable exit strategy. But while all eyes have been on Europe, a concerning trend has been emerging much closer to home. Contributor Jo Sellick, Managing Director – Sellick Partnership.

Apprenticeships are on the decline, with the most recent government data revealing that the number of people starting apprenticeships in the last quarter of 2017 fell by almost 27 percent compared to the previous year. The decline has largely been linked to a levy introduced by the government for any businesses with a payroll of more than £3 million. It charges employers 0.5 per cent of their payroll, putting the money into an apprenticeship fund to cover the cost of apprenticeships across the wider economy.

While the idea behind the levy was to boost the apprenticeship industry as a whole, it appears to have had the opposite effect, much to the detriment of potential employees and employers alike. Apprentices play a crucial role in the economy, filling skills gaps and providing much-needed resource to British businesses. Employers benefit from a typically lower cost to their payroll and they are contributing to the education and training of the next generation of workers. Without apprentices, business will suffer, so it is essential that the government refocus its efforts and helps the industry to regain strength.

In February, Theresa May announced plans to conduct a major review of post-18 education, pledging to provide young adults with a better choice of both academic and technical opportunities. This must include a specific strategy for promoting apprenticeships as a viable alternative to traditional routes, with support for the businesses that hire them. We also need to move beyond the misconception that apprenticeships are only suited to vocational sectors and recognise their huge value for everyone. Professional services, creative agencies and tech firms are just some of the workplaces that benefit hugely from apprentices, yet candidates and business owners often have no idea this is an option.

Those businesses that do have strong apprenticeship schemes should shout about this fact, promoting case studies that illustrate the benefits to all parties. This is especially relevant during National Apprenticeship Week, but is something that employers should keep in mind all year round. At Sellick Partnership, we are fortunate to have a host of employees who began their careers as apprentices and have since gone on to full-time employment with us across a variety of roles, including recruitment and management. We make a point of talking to hiring businesses about these success stories and also to potential candidates who might not have previously considered this route into work.

A number of global corporations have recently announced that they are closing their UK offices and relocating to other European cities ahead of Brexit. Candidates will no doubt go with them, not to mention the thousands of European workers who keep so many of our industries running. This could cause huge skills gaps across multiple sectors over the coming years, but this can be resolved by nurturing our home-grown talent from a young age. If the government can get this right and work with business leaders to encourage – not discourage – apprenticeships, the entire economy and wider society stands to benefit.