I’ve made it very clear, as a former apprentice myself, that I truly believe an apprenticeship is the credible way to kick-start a person’s career. In my eyes a high-quality apprenticeship is the equivalent to a degree, you hit the ground running in the workplace, pick up the necessary skills and come out the other end with a full-time job. The government will introduce its Apprenticeship Levy, which is predicted to raise £2.8bn in 2019–20, to help meet its commitment of three million apprenticeships, starting in England between 2015 and 2020. Although employers will pay an extra 0.5 per cent tax, they can receive subsidies for hiring the apprentices. The Apprenticeship Levy is like a lifeline to young people, regardless of their background, who don’t feel that university is the right path for them. Despite these promising statistics, the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has criticised the government’s initiative, claiming that the Apprenticeship Levy is “poor value for money”, highlighting the risk of the apprentice “brand” being devalued and becoming just another term for training. In my eyes, that’s nonsense. That’s like saying that London might collapse as a result of building the Thames Tideway that’s under the city. Yes, it could happen, but as long as the engineers get it right, it won’t. Whilst most of the discussion has surrounded the impact that the Apprenticeship Levy will have on companies themselves, surely we should be looking at the quality of the apprenticeship being given and what the apprentices can give back? As journalist Alice Thompson suggested in her column for The Times last week, as long as the standard of education is of a comparable quality, an apprenticeship can provide the skills for a lifetime of full employment. How are we going to solve problems if we continue to twiddle our thumbs, yet criticise any proposed solutions that come our way? It seems to me that the government is trying to do what’s right in the wake of the EU referendum and future economic uncertainty for the growing number of kids who could face unemployment. In all honesty, the government has tried to take a step in the right direction. We should be supporting figures like apprenticeship and skills minister Robert Halfon, who at the end of the day is delivering on their promises to try and reduce youth unemployment and close the skills gap, with an innovative solution. I know the opportunity that an apprenticeship presented me with and with the introduction of this Apprenticeship Levy, it’s out there for everyone. Apprentices are a fundamental part of my business and I will continue to hire them as part my expansion plan this year and thereafter, even when the Apprenticeship Levy is in full swing. I think that the IFS does get the need for the Apprenticeship Levy, and why apprenticeships are vital. I know that the government does too. It’s the businesses which should defy the IFS analysis, and take the Apprenticeship Levy as an opportunity to invest in people – who will essentially be the future of their company.
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