Interview: Government shouldn’t have created apprenticeship levy, AELP chief says

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Apprentice Eye sat down with Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), one of the biggest trade associations for vocational learning and employment providers in Britain.

He talks to Apprentice Eye about the AELP’s stance on the apprenticeship levy, Richard Harrington’s resignation, and whether Jeremy Corbyn will be good for the apprenticeship sector in this exclusive interview.

Why do you think apprenticeships have risen to the top of the agenda for the Conservative party?

The skills crisis is a big problem in this country and I think politicians are really starting to recognise two things: one being that apprenticeships not only provide people with an opportunity to gain a higher wage and better employment, but that apprentices also help business owners increase levels of productivity.

The apprenticeship programme (3 million by 2020) in this country gives the Conservative party a structured approach towards the development of skills.

Skills get developed in all sorts of ways, whether that is in education or in training, and apprenticeships are an effective way in which you can combine these two things.

The apprenticeship levy is obviously one of the biggest talking points within the sector. What’s the AELP’s stance on this – do you think its correct that big business will be taxed to fund apprenticeships?

My initial view is that apprenticeships and the development of skills shouldn’t be something that the government charges companies for, because it’s something that companies need to fund themselves – and a vast majority of firms are already doing this.

I think that this tax is fuelled by a need to reduce government spending. It’s something that we (the AELP) wouldn’t have chosen as a way forward – we believe the government could have grown their apprenticeship programme solely through employer contributions, not through taxing large companies.

What this levy means however, is that a greater number of large employers will now consider apprenticeships as the way forward in terms of recruitment.

Just this week, Richard Harrington, David Cameron’s apprenticeship adviser stepped down from his role. Do you think this will have a major effect on how the Conservatives move forward with their apprenticeship plans?

I guess in a way its fortunate that Mr Harrington has stepped down at such an early stage in the process, as he hasn’t gotten too involved so far.

I don’t think Mr Harrington’s resignation will have a major effect upon the government’s apprenticeship plans.

It’s up to businesses, employers and other stakeholders to drive the apprenticeship programme forward, not the government. I think Mr Harrington would have done a great job in supporting the programme but quite frankly I don’t think it’s down to the Conservatives to drive it.

Do you think large companies are doing enough to help the disabled get into apprenticeships?

I think that more can be done. The blame shouldn’t be laid on anyone in particular, but I think more can be done by government, employers and training providers.

They all should be making sure that people with any type of disability have full access to apprenticeship programmes.

Also, employers need to be more open about their recruitment policies because in some cases certain apprenticeships are so hard to come by, that some companies tend to exclude certain groups of people when looking for new recruits. As a society we should be doing everything we can to make apprenticeships more accessible to the disabled.

The appointment of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader has caused problems within the party, with John Woodcock, shadow minister for young people, stepping down following his election. How do you think the apprenticeship sector will fare under Corbyn?

I’d like to think that the Labour party will continue to support the successful training programmes operating in the UK at the moment.

We did have some differences of opinion with the previous Labour Party (under Ed Miliband) around the future of apprenticeships, where they were talking about removing the Level 2 apprenticeship programme. We would like to encourage apprentices to move to Level 3, but I don’t think removing Level 2 is the answer to that.

The appointment of Jeremy Corbyn allows us to sit down with the new opposition team and discuss whether their views on apprenticeships will support all levels of learners.

I’d also like to think that the new Labour party will support Traineeship programmes, whereby the government helps young people who are not quite ready for an apprenticeship. This initiative helps young people develop the skills required to undertake an apprenticeship.

What advice can you give to people who are deciding whether to go to university or to undertake an apprenticeship?

I think that the question these people should ask is ‘how do I learn best?’

There are many people who learn by doing, and if that’s the case then they do need to consider an apprenticeship or a vocational route, but that doesn’t mean at some point down the line they won’t have an opportunity to get a university education.

In today’s world people don’t have to pick and choose in terms of their education, there are apprenticeships that are equivalent to a degree and some that provide an opportunity to study at university.