From education to employment

Semta CEO Philip Whiteman welcomes government inquiry into Apprenticeships

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee is conducting an inquiry into apprenticeships. If you haven’t had time to contribute your views before the Feb 3rd consultation deadline, rest assured that Semta has made clear the needs of the vital science, engineering and manufacturing sectors.

The Committee seeks answers to key questions on the success of the National Apprenticeship Service, funding, quality, apprenticeship bonuses and what will encourage more small and medium sized businesses to take on apprentices.

Without doubt, the National Apprenticeship Service has made progress in raising the profile of Apprenticeships and in driving growth in Apprenticeship numbers. A downside to this rapid growth has been quality control – an issue well documented in FE News. So the introduction of a minimum duration to protect the quality of the apprenticeship experience is excellent. But, the system is struggling to meet two potentially conflicting objectives: the drive by government to reduce youth unemployment and the business and economic growth needed to up-skill the existing workforce including employees aged over 25.

Semta welcomes current government commitments to increase resources available for apprenticeships. The priority will be to ensure that these resources actually reach the SMEs, providing the practical support they need to train successful apprentices. This will become even more critical with the introduction of loans in further education, where for the first time, apprentices (over 25) will need to pay 50% of their apprenticeships. Whilst we understand the need for austerity, this may prove to be an unwelcome disincentive at such a critical time with major skill shortages in STEM areas.

Semta’s latest research shows that between 2012 and 2016 these sectors need to recruit 82,000 scientists, engineers and technologists across the UK. Currently, only 15% of sector employers recruit apprentices.

So when it comes to bonuses, rather than a flat set rate, the amount should be calibrated according to sector needs and the associated level of investment made by an employer over the duration of the Apprenticeship. The cost to an employer for the delivery of an Advanced Apprenticeship in Engineering is significantly higher than that for some other sectors.

And, while Semta welcomes the introduction of bonuses for ‘first time’ SMEs taking on apprentices in the 16-25 age group, we are increasingly finding that small engineering employers are interested in the recruitment and upskilling of post-25 age group.

Semta was awarded £5 million by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) to increase the skills of the existing workforce and bring in new talent through the recruitment of both graduates and apprentices.

The funding will support Semta in implementing sustainable skills solutions for three work streams, including improving the productivity and competitiveness of supply chain companies, increasing the number of SMEs that recruit an apprentice from 11 per cent to 20 per cent by 2016.

Helping employers realise the business case for apprentice training is something that we are already working hard to achieve. In 2011 we teamed up with leading employers and NAS to launch the Apprentice Ambition – a 10 point plan designed to take the number of advanced and higher level apprenticeship registrations from 8,000 to 16,000 by 2016 by making it easier to take on an apprentice.

As part of the plan, Semta launched an Apprenticeship Service where – at no cost – we can manage the whole process, from advertising a role, assessing specific training needs, securing funding, and working with recognised training providers to ensure a quality programme.

Higher level skills are vital to the success of engineering and advanced manufacturing employers. Semta’s employers have clearly articulated a need to move up the value chain to skills at level 4 and above for themselves and their UK-based supply chains in order to remain globally competitive.

It is therefore critical that there is a suite of appropriate Level 3 apprenticeships to support progression to higher level skills. Engineering Advanced Apprentices at many companies go on to complete degree-level qualifications, but this is dependent on good local provision including part-time provision which follows the model of apprenticeship delivery (usually day release).

In order to address these needs, Semta has been awarded Pathfinder Funding by the NAS to lead the development of a new higher apprenticeship framework in Advanced Manufacturing, which will be available from April 2012. Semta’s aim is to develop a flexible, employer-led framework to support the development of higher level skills in new and existing technology areas.

The new skills landscape puts employers in the driving seat, giving them ownership and in return expecting them to pay for training interventions. The majority of manufacturing and engineering employers don’t have a training plan or training budget so many will find it challenging to take ownership without support. In their fast moving world, it will also be difficult for them to find the time to respond to government consultations. Fortunately they can rely on sector skills councils like Semta to ensure their needs are consolidated into clear demands signals and products developed to provide sustainable improvement and growth.

Philip Whiteman is chief executive of Semta, the Sector Skills Council

The Select Committee inquiry is important for the long-term prospects of apprenticeship schemes across all sectors and Semta is encouraging employers to get involved in this important consultation. It is not too late to state your view; submissions can be sent to [email protected] before the 3rd February

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