GUEST POST: Apprenticeships vital to businesses and job market

Our latest guest post is by Kevin Burke who writes about apprenticeships and employment on behalf of boiler breakdown cover specialists 247 Home Rescue. Connect with them on FacebookTwitter or LinkedIn.

Apprentices are of vital importance to businesses of all sizes and a huge range of workers nowadays. The job market is very challenging at the moment and has been for several years, with young adults in particular finding it very hard to get a foot on the career ladder. Businesses are also struggling to find workers with the experience and vocational skills they need to succeed in the working environment. Apprentices provide a simple and effective solution to these problems.

Apprenticeships have been going from strength to strength recently, and a government announcement on March 19th has given apprenticeships in the UK another shot in the arm. In the Budget Statement, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne revealed the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE) scheme is to see its funding increased by £170 million from 2014 to 2016. This additional cash will be split across the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Furthermore, from January 2015, the AGE scheme is to focus entirely on employers with less than 50 members of staff.

Some of the benefits employers will see as a result of these amendments include:

–          Providing employers who have not taken on apprentices in the last year with access to a £1,500 grant for their first ten apprentices

–          Removing any barriers that prevent smaller firms from taking on additional apprentices

–          Increasing the funding for people who want to complete postgraduate or degree apprenticeships by £20 million

The long-term aim for the government is to change social norms so that young people choose to either go to university or enter an apprenticeship programme when they leave school. This ambition seems to be being rapidly realised – since 2010, the state has supported at least 13,000 degree-level apprentices, enabling young people to achieve higher education-level qualifications while earning a wage and receiving real-world work experience.

AGE has therefore seen a high level of demand, and the £170 million funding boost should ensure that the initiative is able to meet its growing requirements for the next two years.

It is rare for the coalition’s business policies to receive praise from unions, but the University and College Union (UCU) gave a mixed thumbs-up to the announcement. General Secretary of the organisation Sally Hunt said apprenticeships could potentially become the UK’s “success story”. She added that the UCU supports an increase in the number of apprenticeships and the improved opportunities they provide people, and that it therefore welcomes George Osborne’s announcement.

Nonetheless, she said apprentices should last for at least three years so that participants are given a “well-rounded education”, and argued that apprentices should be paid the national minimum wage.

Boiler breakdown cover specialists 247 Home Rescue has taken on many apprentices in recent years. In the 12 months preceding March 2014, it hired a total of 50 apprentices, and has been praised by the National Apprenticeship Service, with Head of Employer Accounts for the public body Claire Blott stating that the service is “delighted” by 247 Home Rescue’s commitment to developing its workforce.  247 Home Rescue recently published a blog detailing how much apprentices have done for it, and later saw its accomplishments publicised in the Accrington Observer.