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I stand by the fact my apprenticeship was my vehicle to success

Whenever anyone asks me about my past, I praise my apprenticeship as my vehicle to success. It’s no surprise then that I couldn’t be happier that the Apprenticeship Levy has been launched.
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Having said that, I came across a survey conducted by Manpower, which said 63 per cent of UK employers have little or no knowledge of the new system. And nothing is more unforgivable in business than when the people in charge, who in this case have been hoping to create a vehicle to success for young Brits, can’t be bothered to embrace new measures when government takes action.

So I ask, if these bosses are meant to be offering young workers a vehicle to success, how can they do it effectively if they’re not even aware of their responsibilities?

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For the uncertain 63 per cent, let’s try to break it down. Businesses with an annual wage bill of £3m or more, whether private or public, will have to pay 0.5 per cent of the annual pay bill into the pot. All employers will receive an annual sum of £15,000, to be offset against the bill. This effectively means employers with an annual pay bill of £3m or less won’t pay any levy.

Companies can then use the fund, which will get a ten per cent top up from the government, to pay for training companies, with the goal of creating 3m apprentices by 2020.

For non-levy businesses with less than 50 employees, there’s a new £1,000 incentive for a company taking on someone aged 16 to 18 in an apprentice role.

These proposals seem pretty clear to me, but here’s where things can go awry. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development also released a survey that shows nearly one third of firms have admitted they will offset the cost of the levy, by adapting existing training programmes as an alternative to apprenticeships. This is a pretty big loophole to contend with.

Don’t get me wrong, training staff to the highest standard is important, but that’s not what this levy is about. It’s about being a vehicle to success for young Brits. And I’m afraid that one man’s upskilling can very easily be seen as another man’s escape clause.

Instead of large companies using the levy pot to strengthen business and get more young people into work, it is used to sidestep the rules and do a bit of training on someone who’s already in middle management. It’s clear to me that we’re in danger of failing on the core objectives of the levy; to invest in and improve young British workers.

The government has taken positive steps towards making apprenticeships mandatory – but this loophole offers far too much wriggle room to make an effective change. As a matter of urgency, it needs to be embraced as a national priority for the overall benefit of our next generation.

I would go so far as to say that we should be naming and shaming companies that refuse to step up and shoulder their social responsibility of investing in our future!

I’m confident that if these companies were made to take on even just one apprentice, they would see the extreme value in the enrichment they can offer to the next generation, as well as the many benefits they can get from these young apprentices.

Image: Shutterstock

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About Author

Charlie Mullins

Charlie Mullins, also an OBE, is the archetypal entrepreneur – having started his business from scratch and then building it into a multi-million pound enterprise. From humble beginnings growing up on an estate in South London, he left school with no qualifications, but after a four-year plumbing apprenticeship he started his own firm, Pimlico Plumbers, which now generates a turnover in excess of £30m and boasts many well-known names among its many clients including Simon Cowell, Helen Mirren and Richard Branson. He has been a regular contributor on Real Business since 2011 and is particularly about apprenticships.

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