Apprenticeship drive triggers cheap labour alert

The government drive for more apprenticeships must not be used by employers as an excuse to hire cheap staff while laying off existing and more costly workers, leading HR figures have warned.

As prime minister Gordon Brown unveiled a £140m scheme to subsidise the creation of 35,000 new apprenticeships last week, HR practitioners voiced concerns over the timing of the hiring frenzy.

While thousands of jobs have been axed across the UK in recent weeks, the government wants to see progress towards its target of 400,000 apprenticeships in England by 2020.

Richard Fuller, HR director at financial services firm Threadneedle, told Personnel Today: “If there’s a clash so the roles being made redundant are connected to those [to which] the apprentices are being brought in, then there’s the potential for real problems.

“Employers need to be careful they don’t use apprentices as cheaper labour,” Fuller added.

John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), agreed that overlapping recruitment and redundancies, particularly within the same department, could be a recipe for disaster.

A CIPD report predicted that 600,000 more UK jobs would be cut this year, bringing the number of people out of work close to 2.5 million.

“It will be interesting to see how HR departments deal with employees in an organisation where redundancies are made on the one hand, and more apprentices taken in on the other,” Philpott said.

Trade unions and the TUC warned against hiring apprentices, with the help of public funds, as a ruse to lay off more expensive staff.

Dave Prentis, general secretary at Unison, urged companies to avoid committing to such programmes if they could not protect their own staff from redundancy.

“It would be a complete negation of the apprenticeship scheme if the company took on apprentices while letting go of other workers,” Prentis said.

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