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Will the Government’s approach to Apprenticeships make the grade?

10 September 2015 - Rosemary French

The Summer Budget certainly set Twitter chattering. What, with making it so simple to convert offices, warehouses and now brownfield sites (potentially industrial estates) into housing, reducing employment land and commercial property availability, which we could have used to increase productivity and jobs. I can actually envisage towns and villages becoming commuter deserts, where it becomes impossible to work locally.

The proposed apprenticeship target of 3 million also grabbed my attention.  But Osborne also made clear he has no intention of funding this.  To quote ‘While many firms do a brilliant job training their workforces; there are too many large companies who leave the training to others and take a free ride on the system.’  I would imagine some of the foreign owned large companies could take exception to this and vote with their feet.   Osborne talked about an apprenticeship levy. That will be tricky one to get implemented.  I can just hear the CBI and Chambers protesting at yet more interference.

Already businesses are telling us that they cannot get enough apprentices.  Horror stories of applicants not turning up for interviews (I experienced that); of the failure of the National Apprenticeship Service; and then apprentices arriving without a ‘work ready’ attitude.   Even so, there are many successes.  Private training providers and FE colleges have proved adept at finding and placing apprentices.  However, FE Colleges are currently being starved of funding in favour of academies, UTC’s and now ITC’s.   No, I do not understand the difference between UTC’s and ITC’s but it strikes me that this government really has it in for FE colleges.   For example, if an employer offers an apprentice permanent employment before their course is complete, the college loses its funding for that student for the whole year.   Is that not the craziest thing you have heard!  Or if a parent finds their child an apprentice placement, the college does not get paid despite managing the apprentice thereafter!

Finally, there is a definite middle class aversion to their children taking up apprentices when they can go so easily to university.  The UK is not like Germany where apprenticeships are revered.   Businesses want apprentices.  They do not need to be bullied into it as suggested by Osborne.  But where is the supply? And are FE Colleges going to be financially helped to reach those targets?

However, large businesses do frustrate me when it comes to the newly graduated.   I had popped into PC World where I struck up a conversation with the sales assistant. It turns out that he and his three friends are all newly graduated aeronautical engineers and they cannot find jobs. But, I said, that cannot be the case because all I hear is the demand for engineers.   So I spoke to a recruitment agency who tells me that businesses will only take on graduates with at least two years experience.  So how do they get this experience, then?  Leave the country?

I was taken on by a corporate business on graduation and was knocked into shape on a yearlong induction programme. It was very common then.   What on earth has happened, that we encourage schools to produce STEM students, send them to university, only to have them work as a barista. Of course, the corporates can find their experienced graduates by recruiting in Europe.  Which makes one wonder if we could have some sort of employment link in the final year of university whereby students actually work for the employer but are not paid other than through the grant system.   The students can then actually be trained on the job while still being in the education system.  I admit that this is not my idea but was suggested by an entrepreneur colleague.    But it would be that stepping stone that graduates need to get them into work before the job is taken by a Lithuanian!

Article originally appeared in September’s South East Business Magazine (with a link)

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