'Shake-up apprenticeships to tackle skill shortage', councillors say

Apprenticeship levy-paying businesses would like to see it replaced with an alternative to fund trai

Apprenticeship levy-paying businesses would like to see it replaced with an alternative to fund training. Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

We need to get more young people into apprenticeships – that was the message from a cross-party group of Norfolk councillors.  

A report to Broadland District Council's overview and scrutiny committee found a dramatic cut in the number of young people taking up apprenticeships in the district between 2015 and 2020.   

Just 230 16 to 18-year-olds and 210 19 to 24-year-olds took up apprenticeships in 2019/20, down from 310 and 320 respectively.  

Take-up by people aged 25-plus has remained comparatively high, dropping only from 340 to 310.   

Laura Smith, a Broadland council officer, said a 2015 review of apprenticeships, which introduced a levy – a tax on large employers to fund the training - has benefitted older and more educated apprentices.  


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Ms Smith said: “At the moment there seems to be a high appetite for higher-level apprentices from employers, I believe there will be some review of how the levy is spent.”  

Natasha Harpley, Labour councillor for Sprowston central, said not everyone wanted to progress on to further education and questioned where that left young people who wanted a more skills-based education.  

Natasha Harpley, Broadland District Councillor for Sprowston has launched a petition calling on Firs

Natasha Harpley, Broadland District Councillor for Sprowston has launched a petition calling on First to reinstate the Linacre Loop. Pic: Labour Party. - Credit: Labour Party

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She said: “You think of apprenticeships as being a first step to learning [work skills].  

“What we are hearing anecdotally is that it is older people are using this to top up their work employment, it’s not about a first step.  

“It seems here that the younger people, who are most disadvantaged, are being hit hardest by this.”  

Conservative councillor David King, of Hellesdon north west, agreed, questioning whether a young person would want to take up an apprenticeship when the pay is so low.  

“I think it’s quite insulting expecting someone to work for £4.15 an hour and that is what the employers are going to give," he said.  

Hellesdon councillor David King, who has criticised the Liberal Democrat group for sending newsletters

Hellesdon councillor David King - Credit: Antony Kelly

But Ms Smith said she hoped good employers would top up an apprentice’s pay and after the first year they should be paid the national minimum wage.  

Steve Riley, the committee chair, called for a change in the system, saying: “If this scheme is doing its job, then why do we have a skills shortage in this country?

“Why do we have a shortage of electricians and plumbers? There’s clearly something wrong.”  

The committee unanimously agreed to make representations to the secretary of state calling for a re-evaluation of the scheme and to help more young people into apprenticeships. 

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