Why are businesses not taking advantage of the new apprenticeship scheme?

The Government’s new Apprenticeship Levy scheme introduced two years ago set an ambitious target of creating 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020.

Under the scheme any business with annual payrolls exceeding £3million have had to pay a 0.5 per cent levy on their payroll to the Government which can be redeemed against the cost of staff employed under an approved apprenticeship programme.

But there is now very little confidence that the 3 million number will be achieved. Indeed, the numbers of new apprenticeships have been reducing and in January this year was revealed to be 15% lower than before the system was introduced two years ago.

In May the Public Accounts Committee said that the DfE’s “poor execution” has created “serious longer-term problems” for apprenticeship programmes.

Yet UK businesses have been for some time facing serious problems in finding appropriately skilled candidates for jobs, particularly in engineering, construction and IT. And the OECD has warned that automation will affect more than a million workers, who will need re-training as a result.

The new apprenticeship levy has been variously described as “yet another tax on business”, with an online system for claiming training vouchers that is too complicated to use and with the maximum amount that can be claimed set far too low.

For example, in the engineering and manufacturing sector, the levy caps the possible funding for any single apprentice at £27,000, but some firms say they can spend up to £100,000 for some apprenticeships. To make matters worse, those firms paying the levy must claim their vouchers within two years or lose the money paid under the levy altogether.

Even worse is that some of the standard training programmes are not yet ready, according to the website redflagalert in an article in October last year: “In high-cost sectors such as engineering, construction and manufacturing, the immediate cost needed to set up the new training deters many.”

According to the Financial Times, reporting in January this year: “A survey of 765 levy paying businesses in November by the training body City & Guilds found that 93 per cent had hit some form of barrier preventing them from investing in apprenticeships since the levy was introduced.”

If the larger levy-paying businesses are struggling to implement apprenticeship schemes, then imagine how much of a burden it is for the UK’s many SMEs. Although the Chancellor of the Exchequer this year halved the amount small firms must spend on apprenticeships to 5% the burden of dealing with the online voucher claiming system and finding a suitable training scheme is likely to be far more onerous for already-busy owners and managers than it is for the larger businesses.

Yet another example of a well meant Government policy badly executed without really understanding the way business operates and what it really needs?

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