The government needs to turbo-charge apprenticeships

Ian Mean
Director of Business West Gloucestershire | Business West
25th April 2022

At the risk of sounding like a long playing record, I am returning to one of my business hobbyhorses.

That is the value to our economy of young people going into apprenticeships.

And I am indebted to Financial Times columnist Sarah O’Connor who used some of our Business West research into apprenticeships when she wrote a very pertinent column in the Financial Times last week.

She wrote: ”No conversation about social mobility is complete without somebody mentioning what a good idea apprenticeships are.

“Countries like Germany, where apprenticeships are firmly embedded in the economy, demonstrate the modern day value of one of the world’s oldest systems for vocational training”.

If only we adopted that premise for apprenticeships like Germany where young people, for instance, are given insights into engineering at primary school.

We leave it far too late for our young people.

And the number of our entry -level apprenticeships here has plummeted.

What has happened is that many large companies have found the apprenticeship levy beneficial to send older workers on courses—not the young entrants that the system is supposed to encourage.

Some of these larger companies find it pays them to use their apprenticeship levy money on older employees rather than return it to the Treasury.

This has meant that  smaller SMEs find it increasinlgy complex to take on an apprentice.

Sarah O’Connor wrote that analysis by the Centre for Vocational Education Research shows that people who start an apprenticeship when aged 19-24 receive a larger salary post completion than those who began their apprenticeship over 25.

“In most cases, the differential is around twice as large”, she says.

So, the suggestion is that  apprenticeships are a bigger boost for skills and productivity when concentrated on young people.

The UK has a dismal record of productivity and the government needs to turbo-charge apprenticeships and support for the SMEs who are the real powerhouse of our economy.

Given the right opportunities early on, apprentices can make a big contribution to our productivity and at the same time develop their own careers more quickly.

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