Apprenticeships hold the key to solving two of the economy’s major ills, an increasingly ingrained youth unemployment problem and a growing skills gap that will leave us trailing behind international rivals in terms of competitiveness and productivity.
There’s no denying apprenticeships are fashionable again, although, mainly among politicians and young people. Of course, that’s not a bad thing. Young people have realised that there is more to life than academic study and government knows that vocational training delivers actual job-related skills that can drive the economy forward.
The challenge is creating enough opportunities for apprentices to flourish from trainees into valuable members of the workforce. The only way this can happen is for more employers to offer apprenticeship places.
Some firms, of course, place apprenticeships at the heart of their skills strategy and even sectors that wouldn’t previously have been associated with apprenticeships, such as law and finance, are catching on to the benefits of training people ‘on the job.’
However, plumbers’ maths will tell you it’s just not enough.
A Demos/British Gas report revealed that there are just 11 apprentices for every 1,000 employees in England compared to 39 in Australia, 40 in Germany and 43 in Switzerland.
Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some stick beating exercise blaming employers for the skills gap and lack of opportunities for young people. We’ve all be through the toughest economic storm for several generations and times have been hard. And, as a result investment in the workforce dropped off, which included apprenticeships.
This has created a skills gap, which means we are playing catch up. Fewer than 10 percent of firms in England offer apprenticeships and young people are unable to find placements due to the number of applications from the growing army of school leavers keen on the vocational route.
So, businesses have to look long and hard at their future and, even if they can’t see immediate returns from employing apprentices, they must be able to appreciate what’ll happen to their businesses five or ten years down the line when the flow of skilled workers dries up.
Of course, businesses can’t do it all on their own and with all the will in the world the money just isn’t there to create the thousands of apprenticeships needed.
The Government is trying to improve the situation and Skills Minister Matthew Hancock and his team deserve praise for their efforts to improve the standing and availability of apprenticeships, but more needs to be done.
This is why I am continuing to call for the creation of a new training allowance using the money currently being given to out of work young people in the form of Job Seeker’s Allowance. Divert that money to employers to help fund apprenticeships and I am in no doubt that the number of apprentices would sky rocket.
It’s so simple and provides a win-win situation for employers, young people and government. Creating more places would have a direct and positive impact on the economy. Apparently, an additional 300,000 placed would boost the UKs GDP by £4billion as well as cutting the youth unemployment rate. Those are numbers not to be sniffed at.
So, this Apprenticeship Week, if you’re an employer who can afford to take on even just one more apprentice, do it, you won’t regret it. If you can’t, join me in my calls for the creation of a national apprenticeship training allowance. Either way it’s a no brainer.
Charlie Mullins is CEO and founder of Pimlico Plumbers
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