The Think Apprenticeships First campaign addresses several significant issues that we feel are holding businesses back from fully embracing Apprenticeships as a viable long-term platform on which to build a sound and sustainable commercial future for the economy.
This comes as research we carried out in partnership with NIACE illustrates the hurdles the Work Based Learning industry still needs to overcome to get its messages across. Despite unprecedented Government backing for Apprenticeship programmes over the last 18 months and a concerted effort from the WBL sector to support them, 81% of the 1,000 businesses we surveyed do not currently employ an apprentice and 82% have no plans to hire one this year.
Although we are still in the early stages of this new era for Apprenticeships, I would argue that those figures point to a collective failure to deliver a clear incentive for employers to engage. Flip the coin, however, and it’s hard to argue that these figures also show just how much potential there is out there if we can address the underlying issues.
But its not all bad news. The research revealed that 61% of the large employers surveyed have at least one apprentice under the age of 25 on their books, which is a positive sign given continuing concerns around youth unemployment. However, that number falls to just 37% for medium-sized firms and 11% of small businesses. So the task ahead couldn’t be clearer, and our challenge as education providers and training companies must be to go the extra mile if we are to make Apprenticeships appealing to firms of all sizes in this country.
So business can rightly ask what we are doing about this disconnect. For our part, we have devised the Think Apprenticeship First campaign and a 3-step action plan that will show UK businesses the benefits of employing an apprentice, while giving them the support and guidance to make it happen.
First on the agenda is to effectively demonstrate that Apprenticeships work. Thousands of businesses, large and small, use Apprenticeships as an effective form of staff recruitment and development. We need to promote the benefits of Apprenticeships to businesses to illustrate the real added value that implementing an Apprenticeship programme can have. Case studies we have put together with BT, the Army and Babcock – available now on our website – should inspire employers both large and small to follow their lead and incorporate apprentices into their long-term strategic planning.
Second, we have identified an urgent need to simplify the message we are conveying to the UK business community. While most employers are aware of Apprenticeships in general, many don’t know about the specifics, such as what’s expected of them, the range of industry sectors available and how the training works. To help employers make sense of it all we’ve launched an Online Guide to Apprenticeships that will help them decide whether an apprentice would be right for their business.
And last but far from least, we want to demystify the funding maze. The Government recently announced a further incentive of £1,500 for small employers who have not previously taken on an apprentice. To help employers understand their options and the funding support the government offers we’ve created a short downloadable guide to funding.
So the task ahead is clear and the tools we hope can help are being rolled out. The WBL industry needs to help change the common misconceptions of employers across the UK, of that there is no doubt. I am not for one minute suggesting that there is no place for recruiting young people who have benefited from other forms of further and higher education, but I am advocating Apprenticeships as the first point of call.
Apprenticeship Week is our annual opportunity to use the media spotlight to raise the national debate about Apprenticeships and what they really are. Now is the time for us to make our presence felt and focus attention on the hard facts – I look forward to seeing many of you out there doing just that over the next few days.
Trevor Luker is managing director of Pearson Work Based Learning
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