Smaller businesses throughout England are embracing apprenticeships, with nine out of ten saying they have boosted productivity within their business, according to a new study by AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians).

The study, commissioned to tie in with National Apprenticeship Week (5-9 March), shows that businesses appreciate the value apprenticeships can bring to them, with 97 per cent saying that taking on apprentices has been good value for money for them, nine out of ten (90%) saying they have boosted their business’ productivity, and 63 per cent saying that they get staff who are more suited to their businesses and the skills they need, by taking them on as apprentices.

The average number of apprentices taken on by these businesses in the past two years is three, with one in five (19%) saying that they have taken on five or more. 78 per cent say that the number of apprentices they have taken on in the past five years has grown. In a signal of satisfaction with their apprentices, 96 per cent of those questioned say that they are very likely or quite likely to take on more apprentices in the next two years.  

55 per cent of the respondents said that they prefer to recruit apprentices, compared to 32 per cent who prefer university graduates. 57 per cent of those who have taken on apprentices also said that apprenticeships are the best pathway into the industry in which their business primarily operates, versus 18 per cent who said a university degree is the best.

On average, the businesses who have taken on apprentices say they have offered to keep on 61 per cent of them after they finished their apprenticeship, with one in five (21%) saying they have offered to keep on all the apprentices they have taken on. Four-fifths of SME owners and senior workers (83%) say that apprentices have added value to their business within six months of taking them on.

Of businesses spoken to who have never taken on an apprentice, 39% say that they feel there are still barriers holding them back from taking one on. Of those, 29% say the cost of starting an apprenticeship scheme is the biggest barrier, 27% say trying to find out how to get funding is too complicated, and 15% say they don’t know how to start a scheme. Despite there still being these perceived barriers for these businesses, 71% of those who have never taken on an apprentice say they are currently planning to take some on.

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Rob Alder, Head of Business Development at AAT says: “Although there have been some negative comments on the impact of the Government’s apprenticeships reforms, our research shows that there are still many positives in training an apprentice and it is good to see that reflected in the SME market. Our research shows that England’s small businesses hugely endorse apprentices within their own firms and value the benefits apprentices can bring to them. Those who have taken on apprentices are happy with them, and even those who haven’t yet taken any on are making plans to do so.

“Businesses who have never taken on apprentices before, but who would like to, can access a large amount of help. AAT has produced a checklist which breaks the process down into seven easy steps, from creating your job specification, to finding the correct training provider. Information and advice from the government is also available online.

It’s also worth checking whether there are any networks or chambers of commerce in your local area who might be able to give advice, and getting in contact with your local Further Education college or training provider, who could also be able to help.”

Sue Husband, Director at the National Apprenticeship Service says: “We wholeheartedly believe that apprenticeships work – not just for apprentices themselves, but businesses of all shapes and sizes, across all industries, sectors and job roles, and for people of all ages.

“AAT’s research demonstrates the positive impact that apprenticeships have on small businesses in England. For people considering their first – or next – career, an apprenticeship can equip you with the skills and on-the-job training that you will require, while we hope other company owners will consider how taking on apprentices can boost their business.”

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