The government intends to create three million new apprenticeships by 2020 – penalising businesses that do not support the drive and making larger ones help fund it.
Companies bidding for government contracts worth more than £10m will have to demonstrate they have a “reasonable proportion” of apprentices while cuts to welfare cap and removing housing benefit from 18- to 21-year-olds on jobseeker’s allowance will pay for the new scheme.
As an employer who is a committed ‘people champion’ which has provided life changing and meaningful career opportunities to people in our local communities, we applaud David Cameron’s overarching goal to help change lives, enable families to prosper – and fill a huge skills gap.
However, as a company that became so frustrated with apprenticeship providers that we created our very own recruitment arm – The Bayford Foundation in 2013 – when threatened with a skills shortage, we seriously question whether these providers who have secured government contracts to identify, recruit and report apprentices’ progress – are up to the job.
Unfortunately we can’t report that the situation has improved over the last three years. Since last November, we have tried to recruit six apprentices, only to be sorely let down by several providers – notwithstanding our fantastic track record of creating vibrant opportunities into fulfilling careers – and almost doubling the minimum apprenticeship salary.
Approaching three providers several times, none replied.
Finally, one recommended to us by the National Apprenticeship Hub (the body that links employers with a reputable provider) did no more than put an ad on the Hub’s website. When we noticed it had disappeared we asked why – only to be informed that they “hadn’t noticed” its absence.
And when we did host apprentices a few years ago, they and we reaped none of the benefits from the support that another provider was contracted to deliver by the Skills Funding Agency to ensure successful completion.
In addition, many youngsters recruited to our own development and training programme report that they had poor experiences as apprentices earlier in their careers.
A major priority for the government is to invest in ensuring a sound support system for host-companies and apprentices themselves.
So, we urge Mr Cameron to make the support mechanisms for apprentices and providers thoroughly fit for purpose. Perhaps far fewer, but far better performing providers would be easier to appoint, manage, assess.
Employers seeking apprentices would be advised to obtain undertakings to ensure that providers live up to their promises and agree firm schedules of action and achievements by which they will be assessed and paid. They should likewise seek guarantees of an uninterrupted service, should the providers be taken over or fail.
Another sound piece of advice is to secure references from satisfied apprentices and recent customers – preferably businesses of a similar size in your sector.
Ultimately the failures to see through apprenticeships to productive conclusions are bad for the nation, inconvenient and costly for employers and let down the very people they are meant to motivate, support and develop.