Apprentices: No half-baked idea for training one in five young people

The government wants a major rise in the number of apprenticeships on offer – and it’s willing to subsidise their training through employers

Prime minister Gordon Brown signalled his commitment to modern apprenticeships with an announcement to business leaders earlier this year.

In January he said he wanted to see one in five young people on apprenticeships within 10 years. As a first step, he said the number of places on offer for 16- to 18-year-olds – a priority group for the government – would be increased by 90,000 by 2013.

In his speech he said: “It is time for a wake-up call for young people, employees and employers. We must now summon ourselves to a new national effort and mobilisation to win the new skills race.”

Brown was speaking at the launch of a White Paper from the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, which lays out the government’s strategy for the future of apprenticeships in England.

Called World-class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for All, the paper’s proposals include: the setting up of a dedicated National Apprenticeship Service; wage subsidises for small employers which might otherwise struggle to take on apprentices; and incentives for large employers to “over-train” to prepare apprentices for companies further along the supply chain.

Cashing in

But what grants and subsidies are available to employers who want to set up an apprenticeship scheme now? And how are they accessed?

According to Richard Bloxom, printing industry champion at Proskills, the sector skills council (SSC) for the building products, coatings, extractives, furniture, glass, and paper and printing industries, employers with apprentices aged between 16 and 18 will receive full-funding for their training.

Companies with apprentices aged between 19 and 23 may have to fund a small part of their training expenses. “With this age group, some colleges are charging employers a small amount of the cost – say £1,000 over a year,” says Bloxom.

Funding comes through the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) but the money doesn’t pass through the hands of the employer. Usually the employer contracts with a college or a training provider which “draws-down” the funding on their behalf.

A list of endorsed training providers should be available from the LSC and the relevant SSC. Bloxom recommends employers speak with a number of training providers before making a decision on the most suitable.

He says: “The right training provider will facilitate a great deal. They will carry out the paper work, draw down funding, carry out reviews, work out a work plan for the young person and organise all the elements of the assessments to be carried out.”

Vocational qualifications

At Improve, the SSC for the food and drinks manufacturing industries, learning frameworks manager, Terry Fennell, says there are two levels of apprenticeships: one equivalent to a NVQ Level 2 and the other to an NVQ Level 3. Obviously the latter will take longer to complete – about two to two and half years, depending on the industry compared with 15 to18 months for the Level 2.

Alongside the on-the-job training, an apprenticeship also contains a theory element for a broader understanding of the industry, as well as a key skills aspect, such as training in communication and applied mathematics.

This contrasts with the Train to Gain initiative, which is only aimed at getting more employees to gain their first NVQ qualification. Funding for Train to Gain is from a separate pot of money, which is again drawn down by training providers following an assessment with the local Business Link.

If the NVQ route is chosen, Train to Gain will finance any individual working towards a Level 2 qualification (equivalent to five good GCSEs) for the first time – an option taken up by 96,000 workers already. Funding is also available to train people in basic literacy and numeracy skills where required.

Age-less plan

According to Fennell, following several successful pilot projects, age limits will be lifted from apprenticeship schemes later this year, so that any individual is able to qualify for an apprenticeship.

“With 65% of our workforce over 25, this will enable a lot more people to take advantage of the apprenticeships and will be a big part of the government’s target of doubling the number of apprentices over the next decade.”

by Ross Bentley

Case study

At Wirral Partnership Homes, a registered social landlord and building services company, apprentice and technical training manager Chris Boynton urges employers to embrace apprenticeships.

He says: “Don’t be put off by anecdotes that paint apprenticeships as overly time-consuming or involving too much bureaucracy. There is plenty of support out there.

“Training providers and colleges will take on the task of drawing down any funding, and are there to advise if there are any problems throughout the course of an apprenticeship.”

Currently the Wirral Partnership employs 24 apprentices in construction trades such as window fabrication and glazing, as well two in administration roles. Some of the apprentices are being trained by the Vocational College, whose tutors carry out training on-site, while others attend local colleges on day release.

Boynton’s advice on managing apprenticeships is to have a formal training plan in place, so apprentices aren’t thrown in at the deep end. “You have to be realistic. You can’t expect someone to join straight from school and be as good as someone with 20 years’ experience,” he says.

He also advises employers to take care in choosing which experienced workers you pick to act as mentors in the workplace. “We identify employees who we feel have the right temperament for the role of passing down knowledge,” he adds.

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