For now apprenticeships are not reaching the young people furthest away from finding a job. But the new Apprenticeship Levy could change that, if the government make best use of it. From April 2017 the Apprenticeship Levy will be paid by larger businesses when taking on apprentices. But at the moment, only two per cent of the UK’s largest employers can access the £3m pot to cover the cost of training, assessment and certification.
We’re worried the government is missing a trick, leaving would-be employers less likely to make use of apprenticeships and failing to support those who do. Some 12 years ago apprenticeships were opened up to the over 25s and, since then, older members of the workforce have grabbed the chance to retrain and start afresh, leaving those under 25s beginning their careers unable to match the skills and experience of their older competitors in a shrinking job market. Demand isn’t the problem. One young person staying at Centrepoint was so keen to get his foot in the door he would get up at 05:00 every day and travel for hours to learn railway maintenance. That is an opportunity that most young people would jump at – but just four per cent of them have started an apprenticeship.
A new report commissioned by Centrepoint concluded the bar for accessing an apprenticeship is set too high to help those furthest from the job market. Homelessness can significantly disrupt a young person’s education often leaving them without the skills or experience to start an apprenticeship. And the Apprenticeship Levy is a simple way of closing this gap in employment and skills, and there is already reason to be optimistic. Our report showed a strong appetite amongst SME employers to take on apprentices, but unlike larger counterparts, they cited cost as a barrier to doing so. Unlike more financially muscular employers, they aren’t able to draw down from the new Apprenticeship Levy. Excluding thousands of businesses that seemingly stand ready to take on young apprenticeships is counterproductive. Much has been written about how the chancellor’s Spring Budget championed SMEs as the drivers of the economy. Now it’s time for the government to meet these innovative and socially conscious entrepreneurs half way on apprenticeships. Young jobseekers, businesses, and charities like Centrepoint all agree: the levy should provide funding for training places or additional support for disadvantaged young people making their first forays into the world of work. It represents a huge opportunity to give those furthest from the job market the start they need and for businesses to tap into a hugely motivated workforce. Rhetoric alone won’t be enough to start 3,000 young people’s careers, so the government needs to match words with action. Opening the Apprenticeship Levy up to more businesses could give the most disadvantaged young people a chance to realise their potential. Just remember, your learner can become a master – check out the six famous UK leaders that started off as apprentices.Paul Noblet is Centrepoint’s head of public affairs.
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