Anthony Impey MBE, Chair of the Skills and Apprenticeship Policy Board at the Federation of Small Businesses, and business owner of Optimity

How can we bring apprentices, SMEs and micro businesses together?

Over the last two years there's been a dramatic fall in the number of small businesses that have recruited, and trained apprenticeships within their businesses.

With small businesses making up such an important part of the economy, they employ 60 percent of all private sector employment within the within the economy, they make up ninety-nine-point six percent of all businesses in the private sector.

So, getting apprenticeships right for them is very, very important. I think much more is going to be done to engage small businesses.

A very important way to do this is to make it much easier for small businesses to work with large organisations in order to develop the skills that are required, maybe in the local area, or in the sector, or in the supply chain. Very, very important that we fix that.

Obviously, the apprenticeship system allows for money to be transferred between employers. It'll be fantastic if the government possibly developed the apprenticeship service to enable that matching of large employers with small businesses, so that you can marry the two together in order to engage more small businesses in apprenticeships.

Challenges to better bring apprentices and employers together

In April of this year, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) published its research on apprenticeships called "Fit for the future".

This found that there were three major challenges that small businesses had in recruiting and training apprentices within their business:

1. Finding an apprentices

The first was that the process of finding an apprentice was a big, big challenge. Interestingly, that was the same challenge that we found three years ago in very similar research that the Federation Small Business did.

2. Shortage of time

The second challenge small businesses found was that they were worried and concerned about the amount of management time required to train and develop an apprentice within their business.

Lots of small businesses can't afford to have one person give up lots of time in order to train somebody within their organisation. So, I think that lots more needs to be done to help small businesses develop the frameworks and the systems, so they don't lose lots of capacity within their existing team.

3. 20% off the job training

 

Then the third issue that we found is that lots of small businesses struggled with the 20 percent off the job training requirement. I think that's partly because lots of training providers require small employers to send their apprentices to college for one day a week.

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For lots of organisations, that's too much time away from the workplace. In fact, is probably not the correct interpretation of the 20 percent of the job rules, which actually include all sorts of training development that an apprentice does within the workplace.

I think it's important that we get real clarity on what 20 percent of the job requires, so that employers can be much more comfortable with it.

After all, if you look at international examples, the 20 percent of the job requirement is very low compared to, say, countries like Switzerland, where the off the job requirement is closer to 30 percent.

I think if we can make employers more comfortable with 20 percent, it will make a significant difference to their recruitment of apprenticeships.

Anthony Impey MBE, Chair of the Skills and Apprenticeship Policy Board at the Federation of Small Businesses, and business owner of Optimity

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