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SMEs call for extension to apprenticeship incentives

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SMEs say increased apprenticeship incentives are starting to work and should be extended not ended, according to charity

Research by UK charity the HomeServe Foundation (@HSV_Foundation) with small trades businesses shows they are overwhelmingly in favour of the current increased incentives…but are in danger of missing out

Current incentives of £3,000 per apprentice are a key weapon in the Government’s armoury to fight the UK skills crisis, however any positive trends experienced risk being reversed if the incentives end – as currently planned – on 30 September, new research has found. 

According to a survey of UK trades SMEs conducted by the HomeServe Foundation, the charity arm of home repairs and improvements firm HomeServe PLC, 80 per cent of firms say the current apprenticeship incentives had helped their decision to take on an apprentice. 

The survey found 84 per cent of trades firms, including electricians, plasterers, and heating engineers, planned to take on an apprentice to help with increased workloads. 

The UK trades sector is grappling with a huge upturn in customer demand as consumers invest in their homes with kitchen upgrades, decorating projects and home extensions.  

The poll found 94 per cent of businesses had seen demand increase, with a third (32 per cent) admitting waiting lists were already up to six-months-long for non-emergency work. 

And according to the UK Domestic Trades Skills Index, demand for these services is also set to increase by a further 37 per cent by 2030. 

Small employers can currently get grants of £3,000 per apprentice of any age, and £4,000 to take on an apprentice aged 16 to 18.  But these higher incentives are set to end on September 30, 2021. 

Helen Booth, director of the HomeServe Foundation, said:

“It’s clear the current level of incentives is starting to cut through and beginning to make a difference to the busy small trades businesses we have spoken to for this research. Cost is not the only consideration when it comes to taking on an apprentice, but we have seen that it can really help get a decision over the line. 

“The UK is in the middle of a trades skills crisis, and we need to see more businesses training the next generation to make sure we have the skills we need to cope with the demand we’re expecting to see. 

“This brilliant and timely initiative is exactly what the sector needs. But it takes time for small firms to get organised and for the incentives to trickle down. We think the Government should look at extending them, at least until April 2022, to give firms that are still emerging from the pandemic and dealing with increased demand, the chance to take advantage of the offer.” 

Electricians were most likely to take advantage of the £3,000 plus grants, with 90 per cent saying they had made a difference to the decision to take on an apprentice, followed by bricklayers (80 per cent) and plumbing and heating engineers (77 per cent). 

According to the Government, 60,000 claims for the incentives – which have been available since April this year – have been made for 16- to 24-year-olds, with more than 19,000 for the over 25 age group. 

The Department for Work and Pensions Kickstart scheme, which gives young people on Universal Credit paid-for work placements, also allows employers that find a good candidate using that route, to employ them as apprentices and benefit from the incentives.  

Helen added:

“Trades such as electricians, plumbers and gas engineers can’t allow unqualified individuals, even those that have done a college course in plumbing to level 3 for example, to work independently until they have completed an apprenticeship. 

“Skills Bootcamps are brilliant for people wanting to work in sectors such as hospitality but will not work for those looking to move into the more skilled areas of trades and construction.” 

The charity has written to the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister Gillian Keegan to ask her to reconsider extending the incentives beyond September 30. 

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