From August 2012, for those aged 19 and over, apprenticeships will last between one and four years, unless prior learning or attainment has been recorded. Apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds, meanwhile, will last a minimum of 12 months without exception (as announced last December).“We must be relentless in our drive to ensure all apprenticeships are as good as the best, to identify and root out any instances of poor quality provision, and to raise the bar on standards,” says Skills Minister John Hayes. “We are taking strong and decisive action to tackle short duration so all apprentices receive high quality training and work place learning setting them on the road to a long, rewarding career.” While the measures aim to protect apprentices from rogue employers abusing the system, could the measures inadvertently harm the apprentice system? The changes position the apprenticeship programme as anti-business. Forcing a 12-month contract on businesses is not supportive of Britain’s fast-growing businesses. There are certainly some businesses out there who abuse the system, but the vast majority do not. This is a typical example of government putting British business in second rather than first place. Second, the changes are certain to affect the number of employers that hire apprentices. The minimum apprenticeship terms will harm the system. As a business owner, how comfortable would you be to hire someone for a 12-month minimum training period, without any recourse to shortening the length of contract if you are unhappy with them? This is another example of unnecessary and harmful red tape. Britain’s fast-growing SMEs need to have nimble employment laws that enable them to hire quickly and fire quickly when necessary. There is no question that apprenticeships are a force for good: they help tackle youth unemployment, are the gold standard in vocational training, and offer a great return on investment for taxpayers. But forcing 12-month minimum apprenticeship contracts on businesses is a step back, harming the apprenticeship programme and covering SMEs in red tape.
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