Business bosses in the region yesterday outlined how they could be helped to take on apprentices in the wake of a report which recommended the government simplify the system and shift the balance of influence towards employers and away from providers of training schemes.

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Ministers commissioned Jason Holt, a jeweller and social entrepreneur, who also said boosting awareness among small and medium sized employers was key to unlocking the economic benefits of apprenticeships.

In an effort to help employers take on apprentices is Norfolk, the county council has set aside a £3m pot which can be used to subsidise the wages of apprentices taken on by small and medium sized businesses in the county. It has also worked with Norse Group to create 81 apprenticeships.

Apprenticeship champion and chairman of Thetford-based Warren Services Richard Bridgman, who is also regional chair of the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies in the East of England, was quoted in the report.

He said: “SME employers can really inspire school kids on apprenticeships, given the opportunity. I regularly visit local schools and this has led directly to my company taking on 16 apprentices in the past 15 years.”

He has campaigned for the government and engineering and skills organisations to recognise the specific training needs of smaller firms – which recruit the majority of apprentices in Britain.

However, he advocates a managed apprenticeship model which hands over more of the burden of administration from the employer to the training delivery partner. It is also more measurable, where bodies like Semta can assess how effective their sub-contracted training providers have been. The report also recommended modifying the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE) and in its detailed response to the review, the government said its refinements to the £1,500 AGE would involve delivering it in a single payment, rather than the current two.

Graham Hacon, managing director of Great Yarmouth-based energy supply firm 3sun Group, said: “The general consensus across the East of England is that the AGE grant is not enough of an incentive for SMEs to take on apprentices. It doesn’t come anywhere close to covering the cost of taking on an apprentice, which for us has been anything between £10,000 and £20,000 per apprentice per year.

He said the 3sun Group was a strong supporter of apprenticeships and worked hard to recruit young people leaving education and those leaving the construction industry or Armed Forces with transferable skills.

annabelle.dickson@archant.co.uk

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