Big firms in East Anglia are helping small businesses take on apprentices, as more than a third of companies in East Anglia reveal they’re struggling to afford them.

Employers including Aviva, Anglian Home Improvements, and the University of East Anglia are sharing a portion of the government money they receive to hire apprentices with small and medium sized businesses (SMEs), giving local firms a welcome funding boost.

It's under the Levy Support Scheme, which allows businesses to transfer a portion of their unspent apprenticeship levy to another company.

The apprenticeship levy is paid by large employers with a pay bill of more than £3m, set at a rate of 0.5pc of their total annual pay bill.

READ MORE: How to attract apprentices to your business

Every employer who pays the levy has a digital account where they can access their levy funds to spend on apprenticeship training.

While only the biggest businesses pay the levy, the funding generated by it also funds apprenticeship training for other employers who want to take on apprentices.

Smaller employers – those with a total annual pay bill of less than £3m – pay 5pc of the cost of their apprenticeship training, with the government paying the rest.

And for employers who can’t spend all of their own levy funds, the levy sharing system allows them to pledge up to 25pc of their total to other smaller businesses to support them to invest in apprenticeship programmes.

Apprenticeships Norfolk, which offers free advice for apprenticeship seekers and employers, has been helping businesses engage with the scheme since last April, and said it’s been a huge success.

Eastern Daily Press: Katy Dorman, apprenticeship strategy manager at Apprenticeships NorfolkKaty Dorman, apprenticeship strategy manager at Apprenticeships Norfolk (Image: Apprenticeships Norfolk)

Katy Dorman, apprenticeship strategy manager at Apprenticeships Norfolk, said: “The benefit of transferring levy is that it means it doesn’t get returned to HM Treasury.

“Instead we can keep that funding in the Norfolk economy, benefitting our businesses and people locally. 

“The scheme encourages corporate social responsibility from the larger businesses and in many instances these levy transfers have provided the funds to hire apprentices to smaller businesses who wouldn’t otherwise be able to implement an apprenticeship scheme.

“We originally aimed to transfer £350k in the first financial year, but we are thrilled to have so far supported £900k of transfers.”

The need for the system has been highlighted this week by new research that showed more than a third of small and medium companies in the region are struggling to afford to take on apprentices, according to accountancy firm BDO’s latest economic engine survey.

Eastern Daily Press: Peter Harrup, head of BDO in East AngliaPeter Harrup, head of BDO in East Anglia (Image: BDO)

Peter Harrup, head of BDO in East Anglia, said: “As we celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, the importance of apprentices to the economic growth of the region and UK as a whole is not lost on anyone, least of all the businesses at the heart of our economy.

“These businesses are responsible for more than 8 million jobs, the equivalent of one in four across the UK and, with the right level of targeted support, together we can help them kick start their hiring – boosting the number of high quality opportunities on offer to younger generations and providing the skills East Anglia so desperately needs.” 

Apprenticeships have been particularly helpful in industries experiencing skills shortages, like the renewable energy sector.

READ MORE: East Anglia leading the charge on nuclear power

Sizewell C is set to offer around 1,500 apprenticeship opportunities during the construction phase of the project, with options across all areas of the business.

Georgia Pleasants, a HR apprentice at the plant, said: “Apprenticeships are a very good way to get an education, get some qualifications, and be working at the same time. It really sets you up to be ready for the workplace.

“I’m absolutely loving my apprenticeship at Sizewell C; it’s in the local community, it’s right on my doorstep, there’s fantastic benefits, brilliant support, and the teams are amazing to work with.”