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Small and medium enterprises need to help to benefit from apprenticeships

80 per cent of the public strongly back apprenticeships (Adobe)

3 min read

Apprenticeships are riding a tide of positive public opinion as more people look for opportunities to gain work experience while they learn or reskill themselves to better meet the demands of today’s jobs market.

Data shows that 80 per cent of the public strongly back apprenticeships. Meanwhile, four times as many people believe that apprenticeships are a better preparation for the workplace than a university degree. Businesses agree, with data from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development showing that 70 per cent of employers have seen improvements in the goods and services they offer after hiring an apprentice.

This National Apprenticeships Week thousands of people in England will be looking at what further or higher education route best fits them. I’m proud to have employed apprentices as part of my staff and would encourage colleagues to look into this for their own teams too.

“The government must look at ways to reduce the burden on SMEs when it comes to hiring apprentices”

As parliamentarians we see the benefits of a strong apprenticeships scheme every day on the wider estate, with exciting opportunities for apprentices working in this unique place. Their enthusiasm for on-the-job learning is mirrored in the enthusiasm of the wider public and businesses for apprenticeships.

Unfortunately, red tape all too often puts a damper on this for small and medium size enterprises (SMEs). New research by tech company Multiverse shows that while we have seen an increase in apprenticeships starts overall, they are still seen as largely inaccessible for SMEs. Indeed, apprenticeship starts at small businesses remain 45 per cent lower than before the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy.

This chimes with my experience as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships. The group regularly hears from businesses that find the system difficult to navigate, with many simply not having the capacity or funding to deal with the complicated Levy.

The government must look at ways to reduce the burden on SMEs when it comes to hiring apprentices if we are to see progress on the Prime Minister’s target to grow the economy and create better-paid jobs and opportunity right across the country. There are many ways of delivering this, for example through raising the cap on Levy transfers to allow greater flexibility for larger businesses to help their SME counterparts with the cost of training and other associated expenses.

There is also the issue of logistics. More than a quarter of businesses with 51 to 250 employees report that the complexities and demands of administering an apprenticeship is a disincentive to hiring an apprentice.

The government must take responsibility for helping organisations navigate the complexities of the Levy and set up an advice service to support SMEs to develop new programmes and take on new apprentices.

Only by empowering our small business owners to explore apprenticeships will we see their benefits spread across the country to more diverse groups.

Jonathan Gullis is Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships.

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