As National Apprenticeship Week starts in the UK, business groups say the apprenticeship system is filled with roadblocks and obstacles for both large and small companies, and called for the government to simplify the system and make it more flexible. In a report released on Monday, business campaigning groups London First and the North West Business Leadership Team highlighted issues of complexity and rigidity that are creating a mismatch between business needs and the manpower made available by the system.
Millions of young people across the UK have enrolled in apprenticeships over the last decade, and the system reportedly benefits both employers and workers: giving employers access to employees with the skills, knowledge and behaviours required to succeed in today’s workplaces, while opening new pathways into employment for the employees themselves. However, the report by London First and NWBLT points out that the system is bogged down by red tape, and the number of 16 to 18-year-olds entering apprenticeship programs has dropped by nearly 25 percent in the last four years.
A survey by the two business groups found that 17 percent of businesses were unable to make full use of the funds intended to help them bring apprentices on board; at the same time, they face difficulty transferring the funds to businesses which need the money more. According to another survey by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, 75 percent of training providers lack the funding to help SMEs train apprentices, and 17 percent have given up on helping SMEs recruit apprentices at all.
The report outlines a number of major issues with the existing system, such as the difficulty of finding information. The rules for using apprenticeship funding are also inflexible—for example, businesses cannot use it to cover the administrative costs of hiring apprentices even though these costs can be significant. And after all that, businesses are sometimes not even able to find talent of the quality they need.
However, the business groups are not calling for a radical overhaul of the system, according to the report: they simply want to see “pragmatic, achievable change” that will allow them to invest in apprenticeships over the long term.
Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive, London First, said: “Many firms want to take on more apprentices but are hamstrung by a needlessly complex and inflexible system. Businesses – north and south – are calling for simple changes to make the system more flexible and responsive to boost the numbers of young people able to access high-quality training across the UK.”