Firms lured to take on trainees

1st February 2008 at 00:00

But pound;30-a-week may not be sufficient incentive to offset the risk and allay their fears.

Employers will be given the equivalent of the education maintenance allowance to encourage them to offer apprenticeships.

The pound;30-a-week allowance - part of the Government's review of apprenticeships - is intended to support efforts to encourage one in five 16- to 18-year-olds to become apprentices within 10 years.

It is also meant to re-establish apprenticeships as a "mainstream" choice in the eyes of over-16s.

Ministers hope the sum will help small businesses in particular overcome their reservations about hiring inexperienced teenagers.

The precedent has been set by other countries, which have successfully adopted similar incentive schemes, the review said.

Large companies could get similar incentives if they agree to "over- train", recruiting more apprentices than they need in order to create qualified workers who will later move on to other companies.

At present, fewer than one in 10 of the UK's 1.4 million private sector businesses offer apprenticeships. The public sector fares even worse, employing a fifth of all workers but is only responsible for a tenth of the apprenticeships completed each year.

Simon Briault, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, was dubious that pound;30 a week was enough of an incentive for companies to get involved, especially given the concern they would then have about not being able to remove an incompetent apprentice.

"There is a lot of scepticism to be overcome here," he said. "A lot of small business owners are worried about getting involved - not just because of the cost, but because of the bureaucracy.

"We think that expanding apprenticeships is a good idea and we are getting behind them, as are small businesses. But there is still this perception that it is quite complicated to get involved.

"With the pound;30-a-week, well, the thought is there. But a better incentive might be to make it less bureaucratic."

Mr Briault acknowledged that some changes, such as a new national apprenticeships service with a "field force" to go out and support employers and apprentices, were just what hard-pressed small businesses were looking for.

The director of this new service, which is expected to be fully operational by April next year, will be expected to report directly to the Prime Minister twice a year on its progress towards government targets.

All apprenticeships will qualify for Ucas (university-admission) points and will count towards university admission. The plans will also introduce greater flexibility, with fully funded apprenticeships for over-18s in certain industries and cash to support over-25s.

A national certificate will be awarded to every successful apprentice. And the Government wants to expand the Apprentice of the Year awards in order to alter perceptions of apprenticeships.

Schools could be required to give pupils information about apprenticeships under the new legislation.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager who became an apprentice toolmaker at 16, endorsed the efforts to revitalise apprenticeships.

"Apprenticeships were a comprehensive education, which taught young people how to be part of a workforce," he said.

"They have instilled the values of excellence and quality in the workplace and served British industry well throughout the years.

"It is sad that their demise was so swift, and any attempt to revive their place in a young person's training should be welcomed and will benefit the economy for years to come."

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