Marks & Spencer’s group HR director has joined calls for the apprenticeship levy scheme to be overhauled and simplified.
As we enter National Apprenticeship Week, Sarah Findlater said the scheme was “too difficult to access, so millions of pounds are going unspent”.
Echoing many calls from employers and HR body the CIPD, she called upon the government to “reform the levy and make it more flexible and simpler for employers to access this fund so we can create even more apprenticeships and valuable career development opportunities”.
According to a survey published today by accountancy firm BDO, over a third of mid-sized businesses struggle to hire apprentices due to a lack of funding and guidance.
Almost a third (32%) want to see more support from the future government to resolve skills shortages, including reform to the apprenticeship levy. They rank this as a higher priority than tax breaks or regulatory changes, according to BDO.
Less than one in five say they regularly hire apprentices using the levy, with 32% stating they are put off by high costs, and 32% citing lack of guidance.
Almost double the proportion of employers in the north-west cite lack of guidance as a barrier compared to businesses in London, while the south west and East Midlands both have a high number of employers seeking guidance (42% and 40% respectively).
These statistics echo previous research from the Institute of Public Policy Research claiming that thousands of young people face a “postcode lottery” when seeking apprenticeships, due to the emergence of “apprenticeship coldspots”.
The apprenticeship levy was introduced in 2017 and requires organisations with an annual payroll bill of more than £3 million to pay 0.5% of their pay bill towards apprenticeship training. Many employers and trade bodies have called for it to become a more flexible “skills” levy so they can spend it on a wider range of learning opportunities for staff.
“As we celebrate National Apprenticeship week, the importance of apprentices to the economic growth of this country is not lost on anyone, least of all the businesses at the heart of our economy,” said Richard Austin, partner at BDO.
“These businesses are responsible for more than 8 million jobs, the equivalent of one in four across the UK and with the right level of targeted support, together we can help these businesses kick start their hiring; boosting the number of high quality opportunities on offer to our younger generations and providing the skills the UK so desperately needs.”
In October 2023, Marks & Spencer relaunched its retail leadership scheme for school leavers and graduates, under which participants will be able to gain a level 6 (or degree equivalent) apprenticeship.