HR & Management

Apprenticeship Levy: The government has made a dog’s dinner of the scheme

5 min read

12 March 2018

Up and down the country last week, businesses of all shapes and sizes celebrated the importance of National Apprenticeship Week 2018

While it was a shame it was only a relative handful of firms taking part considering the number of companies in the UK, it was good to see that the best route to employment that’s out there get some recognition.

Why were there not as many businesses as there should be shouting from the rooftops about apprenticeships? Well, it’s partly to do with the dog’s dinner that’s been made of the Apprenticeship Levy. It’s just too complicated.

This country was so in need of a scheme that made apprenticeships a statutory part of workforce development. I was initially encouraged by its introduction and the pledge of the creation of three million apprenticeships.

While it didn’t go as far as the scheme I have been pushing for a number of years – to turn Job Seeker’s Allowance into a fund that could be used by employers to fund the wages of apprentices to encourage more training – it was a start.

But, it’s been a false start with big firms accepting the Apprenticeship Levy payment as additional tax and SMEs unsure if they are coming or going when it comes to applying for funding.

The other issue which is related and more long-standing is that there just aren’t enough apprenticeships out there.

Added to that, there are schemes that portray themselves to be like apprenticeships but are hoodwinking people into thinking that their “fast-track” approach is a golden ticket to a golden career. Unfortunately, these schemes are as useful as a losing lottery ticket to last week’s draw.

In the UK, we have been suffering from an ever-growing skills shortage, and with Brexit burdening businesses, we’re faced with the likely prospect of losing access to migrant labour. This leads to business and individuals looking for quick-fix solutions.

Such solutions simply don’t work when looking at the area of skills and training, and I can’t stress enough how damaging fast-track courses are to our trades.

The fact is that no handyman or semi-skilled construction worker, or even layman looking to go on the tools, can learn the intricacies of the job without the formal training of an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships run over a few years for a reason and at the end of it, the apprentices are equipped with all the tools to get the job done. Fast-track courses are nothing but a way to breathe more cowboys into an industry.

Quick training courses will never be able to give people the skills, knowledge and experience to service homes or build more houses properly. One thing is for sure, I would never let an unqualified tradesman in my business, let alone my home.

As an apprentice, you learn how to be the best of the best in a challenging role. You can’t dilute the training, and the only way to get the best out of a trade is to learn it through an apprenticeship.

Fast-track training courses are only good for creating a false environment. Real training can only be learnt in an apprenticeship, through businesses.

Speedy training courses simply distract from a scheme that’s already successful in principle – apprenticeships. Government investment should be spent on bolstering the current Apprenticeship Levy and making the scheme more attractive for businesses to take apprentices on.

Give these youngsters the hands-on experience that apprenticeships are known for, and the skills gap will start to shrink in an instant. The way to increase accessibility to technical courses is, and always will be with the Apprenticeship Levy.

It’s a damn shame that the number of apprentices starting in May, June and July 2017 were down by 61 per cent, according to figures published by the Department for Education, when compared with the same time the year before. To me, this makes the pledge of three million new apprentices by 2020 a distant dream.

Until the government make changes to the system that will reinforce incentives for employers to take on apprentices, the skills gap and the productivity levels in this country will continue to suffer.