Norfolk businesses looking to take on new apprentices are being promised a simplified system as part of a new countywide scheme to bolster the recruitment of young workers.

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Norfolk County Council is ploughing £3.5m into its Apprenticeships Norfolk scheme which aims to create 400 apprenticeships for 16-24-year olds.

The scheme, which will be officially launched on September 20 will see The College of West Anglia work as the main training provider in a consortium supported by City College Norwich and Broadland Council Training Services.

But businessmen Richard Bridgman, chairman of Thetford-based engineering firm Warren Services, who has been appointed as the council’s apprenticeships tsar said that the aim was to make life as simple as possible particularly for smaller employers who are often put off taking on apprentices because of the red tape involved.

“There is a big perception in the business community that it’s too difficult to get an apprentice,” Mr Bridgman said. “There will be one easy route. We have got to make it as easy as possible, there will be a one-page form, and l will be pushing for managed apprenticeships, which takes all the worry away from the employer.

“Everybody is holding back for some reason,” he added. “We have got 10 apprentices out of a workforce of 90. I’m probably one of the highest employers of apprentices in Norfolk, but I see the benefit.

“I have already done it and I have got a queue of people wanting to be apprentices,” he added. “I can’t see why other companies shouldn’t do the same. I like to think that I bring some high level people to the table from organisations the council wouldn’t have had access to before.”

Derrick Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council, said the aim was to create a lasting programme, and he said that he hoped that other parts of the country would look to the Norfolk scheme as a model approach.

“We want to lift up apprenticeship training throughout the whole county and not just have a one-off programme,” Mr Murphy said. “The £3m we are investing is targeted at small and medium sized businesses (SMEs). We have committed money over two years, which has two dimensions to it. One is to kickstart the scheme and to get the training colleges on board, and the second is to work with the SMEs and show how it will benefit them.

“This is a big job, but we are never going to get close to solving the problems we have got with skills and training unless we do it. If we can prove it works in Norfolk then there is no reason why it can’t work anywhere.”

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