NEWS of a dramatic fall in the number of people taking up apprenticeships is worrying but may overstate the problem.

I am also confident that although the new apprenticeship levy has been blamed for the fall it is a measure that will come to be appreciated as beneficial.

The recent announcement that the national trend for apprenticeship numbers are on the decline with words like shocking and diabolical being used to describe the situation maybe slightly overdramatic.

Figures released recently showed a 59 per cent decline in apprenticeships.

The report suggests that this mainly down to the apprenticeship levy reform, with other commentators hinting that this is due to stagnation in the economy as result of Brexit and the uncertainty that it poses.

But I do not believe it is not as simple as that.

Regardless of the reasons stated – it’s not the whole picture in terms of the skills sector and investment that’s taking place for workforce development.

The recent changes have brought huge challenges to the sector with employers being bombarded with calls and messages regarding the levy.

As the head of a training provider, I see our role as to raise the status of apprenticeships, with the view that taking on an Apprentice should be seen as a strategic decision and part of the businesses future employment and skills strategy, moving away from cheap labour and more towards potential future leaders and managers of tomorrow.

I believe employers are confused about the apprenticeship levy that was introduced in April and is payable by businesses and organisations with an annual wage bill of £3 million or more.

This has caused delays in accessing the funds, which in turn affects the apprenticeship start figures.

Employers are generally taking more time to consider and think more about where they would like to invest their funds with more deciding to focus on their leadership and management teams, which has also affected numbers as well.

The other side to the coin in this story is that apprenticeship starts are a combination of existing employers being enrolled on to an apprenticeship qualification and new jobs being created using the apprenticeship model.

In terms of job creation opportunities the indicators are that there is more activity with an increase in jobs overall being advertised on the National Apprenticeship Service website compared to last year.

There is good news in that there has been a growth in the number of vacancies for higher level apprenticeships and he believes that the benefits of the levy will be recognised.

The growth in apprenticeship vacancies being advertised is at the Advanced and Higher Apprenticeship levels that have grown by 63 per cent.”

There is no doubt in my mind that businesses will in time start to realise and grasp the benefits the levy brings.

Apprenticeships and vocational learning have gained more respect, both with young people and also with employers.

It has taken years to get to this stage and let us not ignore that apprenticeship training complements other skills and workforce opportunities in a positive way.

There are challenges. However, there are many more success stories and the overall picture is still positive and upbeat.

Safaraz Ali, Managing Director, Pathway Group

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