From education to employment

Government must do more to make apprenticeships work for business

Emily Follis, Policy Manager at London Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The Coalition Government of 2010 brought with it a welcome commitment to increase the number of apprenticeships in the UK and to breathe life into vocational education. Politicians of all stripes have recognised the importance of apprenticeships in addressing the country’s productivity gap and, in particular, for channelling young people into technical sectors critical to the UK’s economy. Since 2015, the emphasis has been on putting vocational education on an equal footing with traditional academic routes. 

London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), which represents over 3,000 businesses, supports efforts to promote and create apprenticeships. We recognise the vital role upskilling the next generation of workers has to play if London is meet its labour needs in the long term.

Despite the rise in the number of apprenticeship starts over the last six years, it is fairly easy to see that achieving the Government’s ambition of 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020 will require a step change in attitude amongst those considering their future career prospects. Changing the perception of vocational education, not least amongst young people and parents is essential to making apprenticeships appear an attractive and viable option from an early stage.  Equally, teachers and careers advisors in schools must be equipped with the knowledge to present students with a genuine choice for their future. 

And yet, this will all be for nought without employers ready and willing to invest their time and money in apprentices. There is still work to do. ComRes polling conducted for LCCI in recent months indicates that at the end of 2015, only 6% of London firms surveyed had an apprentice on their payroll. 77% of employers, in addition to not having an apprentice on their staff, had not employed an apprentice in the past and did not intend to hire one in the future.

As surprising (and worrying) as these figures might be, it becomes even more alarming when you consider the response from businesses a year earlier. In 2014, 27% of LCCI members, excluding sole traders, reported having an apprentice at that time – suggesting things might have gone backwards.  

So what now needs to be done to turn this around and ensure that businesses are embracing apprenticeships? After all, the benefits are numerous. At the end of the training, employers are left with a prospective permanent recruit who will often have a strong commitment to the company and who, somewhat uniquely, has had the opportunity to understand intimately the needs of the business that has trained them.  We need to diagnose the problem.  Last year, 23% of firms polled by LCCI said that they were not aware of the legal requirements involved in hiring an apprentice when asked why they did not have one in their team. 16% said they did not know where to go to hire an apprentice, whilst 35% cited lack of financial resources as a barrier.  Small businesses in particular can view the creation of apprenticeship programmes as burdensome.

London businesses do recognise the significant role that apprentices have to play to filling worrying skills gaps in the UK’s workforce. Yet, it’s clear from these statistics that, for many, barriers remain to making an apprentice a part of their own company. Advertising campaigns have so far been largely aimed at prospective apprentices rather than employers, such as Get in Go Far, and initiatives to put business at the heart of overseeing apprentices, such as the new Institute for Apprenticeships, will only reach a limited number of employers.

LCCI has been vocal in our calls for the Government to do more to increase businesses’ awareness of the benefits of hiring an apprentice, and to highlight where businesses can access support to get started. It’s time for Government to redouble these efforts, so that businesses of all shapes and sizes can embrace apprenticeships and make them an integral part of their success.  

Emily Follis, Policy Manager at London Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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