The goal of the government’s drive to persuade small and medium-sized companies to take on unqualified youngsters is to tackle youth unemployment. This year it was announced that a further £170m had been set aside for the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers scheme (AGE), which part-funds an apprenticeship.
But for some employers, like Lizzie Penny, co-founder of Futureproof, a marketing agency in London, apprentices are “enthusiastic, keen to learn and dynamic”, which brings “fresh, young talent into smaller businesses”.
The grants have so far helped to fund almost 100,000 apprenticeships, 80% of which have been with small businesses. Last month, David Cameron pledged to use £1bn in welfare spending cuts to fund 3m apprenticeships. But getting business on board remains tough.
Last week, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg noted the “barely concealed snobbery” surrounding vocational-qualifications. “The reason apprenticeships have yet to become an integral part of British business is that many adults and parents still favour academic qualifications”, Clegg said.
Nick Boles, the skills minister, said: “There is an old fashioned view that an apprentice is the young lad under the bonnet of a car, and that the path to success is to go to university. But that attitude is changing fast.”
Boles said there are now about 840,000 active apprenticeships. “We have just over 10% of all employers providing apprenticeships. We need to get many more to do them and most of these will need to be small and medium-sized companies,” he said.
Penny from Futureproof recognises this, “small and medium-sized business are critical to boosting the economy”, and she used Arch, an apprenticeship provider, to hire her three apprentices. A state grant is supposed to go to Futureproof for every apprentice it takes on. The money goes to Arch before it gets to the small company.
At Arch, Ben Rowland says he has placed almost 500 young workers in two years. For those under 19, the government puts up the entire £12,000 recruitment and training cost for each apprentice. For those above 19, the employer pays half and the salary, said to be £8,000-£12,000.
But so far, Penny has received nothing. “We feel direct government support is always difficult to access, shrouded in bureaucracy.”
Rowland said: “We’re a bit unusual as a hybrid employer and provider, which meant that it took us a while to get the AGE process up and running for our partner employers”.
But there are success stories. Neil Schwemm found his apprentices through Firebrand, a supplier of IT apprenticeships. CHS Network, his Kent-based technical support business, found the process through the provider beneficial and the company did receive its state aid.
For more details please see original article: The Sunday Times; Business Section, Small Business News. Kiki Loizou, p.10.