There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Apprenticeship schemes of late, with the Government championing them as an opportunity to address the growing skills gap in the UK workforce. At the most recent Budget, the Government stated that there were already two million Apprenticeship schemes in place with a view to creating a further three million. Back in April, the Prime Minister announced that the proceeds of the £227million Libor rigging fine levied on Deutsche Bank would be used to help train young people in Apprenticeship schemes.
For a large national or even multinational organisation, it can be very easy to absorb a number of Apprentices into the business. But, given the strong support and financial incentives from the Government, an Apprenticeship scheme can also bring many benefits to small and medium size businesses. Employers will receive a grant for each Apprentice of up to £1,500 and up to 100% of the training cost will be covered.
The Apprenticeships Suffolk Business Service (ASBS) has been established to help increase Apprenticeship opportunities in Suffolk and help employers find suitable training options. Set up by TCHC in partnership with Suffolk Chamber Commerce and funded by Suffolk County Council, the programme has already helped large employers in the region minimise their skills gap with the placement of Apprentices.
In the nicest possible way, Apprentices are a source of cheap labour. Although most will need to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage, there is less obligation to pay them on a par with your regular employees. In fact, Apprentices under 19 years of age must only be paid £2.60 an hour. And remember that some part of those wages may be covered by the Government.
Apprentices are there to learn; they will most likely bring enthusiasm to their role with the hope of making a good impression and potentially putting themselves in line for a permanent job once they’ve finished their scheme. And by training in your business, they develop a sense of loyalty for the opportunity you have provided.
If you speak to someone from a small business that has taken someone on an Apprenticeship scheme, they will no doubt warn you of some of the pitfalls. As well as the long term investment of financial and management resources (some schemes may last up to four years and various training and assessment paperwork has to be completed), you may find on occasion that a young person has taken up a scheme through lack of a “better” option and so lack the discipline and enthusiasm for the role that you would hope to see.
To protect their rights, there is no quick release system for getting rid of an Apprentice and, if you think you can leave them to their own devices for the most part, it’s important to remember that they are entitled to the same employment rights as any regular employee including adequate health & safety training, holiday entitlement and protection from discrimination.
The Modern Apprentice
Whilst the traditional idea of an Apprentice is perhaps one of a young school leaver training to be a mechanic, electrician or plumber, the modern Apprenticeship scheme encourages training in a wide variety of areas such as IT, media, communications and recruitment. And whilst the primary aims are to get more young people into work and help up-skill the UK workforce, there are also a growing number of older workers who are looking towards Apprenticeships as a way to retrain into a new career.
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