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SME apprenticeships education plea

Skills planner

More should be done to educate small civils firms about the benefits of offering apprenticeships, according to a key figure.

In 2015 the government promised 3M apprenticeships would be available to young people by 2020, partly funded through the apprenticeship levy which came into force in April this year.

Edge Foundation chair and former Conservative education secretary Lord Baker told New Civil Engineer this week that one of the biggest challenges to boosting apprenticeship numbers was getting small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) interested, as the levy does not apply to them.

Only 2% of UK companies pay the levy as it applies to firms with annual pay bills in excess of £3M.

“These are people who don’t pay the levy. How are they going to be persuaded actually to take a real interest in this?” he said.

Baker added that more information on apprenticeships should be made available to small firms.

“The SMEs want it explained very simply how [an apprenticeship] works, and what are the advantages to them,” he said.

“They don’t get involved in the great debates that go on all the time about standards and levels and all the rest of it, and how much they pay, because they’re not paying anything to the levy at all. They should be beneficiaries.”

Engineering skills body Semta chief executive Ann Watson warned this summer that the apprenticeship system could collapse if it was not made a more appealing option to SMEs.

“We need to make apprenticeships more attractive not less to our young people and employers, particularly the SMEs, at a time when we need all the engineers we can get and the skills gap is growing – we need nearly 2M more engineers and technical staff by 2025,” she said in July.

The Institute for Apprenticeships, the body overseeing apprenticeship quality, last month launched its definition of a high quality apprenticeship to help achieve clarity in the industry.

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