You're Hired: Apprentice agency on why the levy is missing its mark
The chief executive of a Norfolk-based national apprenticeship enterprise has said the industry is facing "challenging times" which cannot settle until the government is on firmer ground.
Chris Perry of Swarm CIC has helped thousands of people of all ages embark on apprenticeships, but says larger firms are confused by constant changes to levy legislation, and smaller businesses do not see upskilling as a priority with Brexit on the horizon.
Mr Perry was speaking following the news that the target of 3m UK apprenticeships by 2020 is now expected to be missed, according to Gerry Berragan, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships.
The announcement was followed by a City and Guilds survey revealing nine out of ten apprenticeship levy-paying companies saying they would like to have greater flexibility when spending their funds.
“The problem is that the apprenticeship changes came in too quickly, and no one was ready for them. The changes meant the funding couldn’t be spent on short-term courses, costing in the region of £5,000,” Mr Perry explained.
“So instead, large businesses put their managers through high level courses of around £26,000 which lasted for a year. So we’ve seen spending go up but the amount of apprentices go down,” Mr Perry said.
Mr Perry said that small businesses, like the majority of those in Norfolk, often aren’t aware that they can upskill their workforce and pay only 10% of the cost of the scheme.
“It’s just not a priority for small businesses,” he said. “A library could send a member of staff on a marketing course for £5,000 and would only have to pay £500, and that percentage is decreasing to 5% this year.
“My hope is that now managers at larger firms have had more training, companies will begin to take on young apprentices. In smaller businesses I think once they start upskilling there’s a change in mentality.”
Mr Perry said that at Swarm, which is based in Wymondham, once a business has upskilled one worker they are then more receptive to taking on a full time apprentice.
“It’s a waiting game,” Mr Perry concluded. “I think in another 18 months or so things we’ll settle and apprenticeship takeup will rise again.”