Apprenticeships don’t work for everyone: We need a healthy pipeline of skilled school leavers

I absolutely believe that the Conservative government getting back into power was the best thing that could have happened for SME’s. 

 I read and applauded many of the proposals in the Queen’s speech. One or two of the more contentious points such as the British Bill of Rights were not covered, making this perhaps easier to do. It was great to see the Trade Unions Bill on the agenda, with proper guidelines to ensure disruption of essential public services could only be carried out by a democratic mandate. Equally, all steps to curtail the exploitation of immigrant labour should be welcomed by any humanitarian.

Key announcements for British businesses from Queen’s speech

It may be therefore a little Eeyore of me to voice concerns over Cameron’s goal of “full employment” being totally beneficial to SME’s. Firstly, we have to bear in mind that the definition does not of course mean full employment, but instead a job for all those that want them. This is to be done by fulfilling a goal of creating two million more jobs and creating three million new apprenticeships.

Well, I am all for apprenticeships. I think they are absolutely great – when they work. We are not based in a major town and we are unable to get a match to a course locally. So for us, apprenticeships are a non-starter and we are far from alone. Not good news for SME’s or potential apprenticeships.  

Each will need to look at being a great deal more adaptable and flexible if they intend this scheme to be extended more widely otherwise we will be amongst the many who have to continue to up-skill our own workforce from scratch.

I am not a huge fan of the enforced re-education that goes on for the unemployed – not that the principle isn’t good but I wonder on the suitability of the courses. How essential is it to up-skill a middle-aged, long-distance driver (as in a case I heard recently) in maths and English – battling with subjects once happily escaped at school?

Then there is the problem of the ideal of one job: to one job seeker. For this to work, we have to have a utopian mix of job and applicants, with perfect mix of skill set to vacancy. Unlikely.

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Instead, SME’s are faced with is the growing lack of choice in applicants of any sort and often a dearth of actually suitable ones, as the best are creamed off by the elitist employers able to offer the highest wages and the most attractive packages.

We have to remember that the biggest challenge to Britain’s growth is the productivity gap. While Britain may have improved on this in recent years, we are still lagging massively behind Germany or the US. To improve productivity, Britain’s companies need investment, they need technology, they need the Tory-promised removal of red tape – and they need an up-skilled workforce.

I worry that, like all corrective measures, too high a figure of employment will have a knock on effect if we are not very careful – of a less skilled, less suitable choice of workers for your average SME. The continual review of how to achieve this is absolutely essential and I believe that it will take not just apprenticeships increasing, but a massive engagement from education at every level to convert themselves away from fundraising SATS results to a programme developed between government, education and employers that provides the right attitude and the right skills for employment.

Watching the quality of many of the applicants that come through our doors, I have yet to see any signs of that having been achieved.

Image: Shutterstock

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