Government may pay firms to hire apprentices

20th May 2011 at 01:00
Incentive is an `effective' way to boost numbers, DfE claims

Companies may be paid to take on apprentices, the Government has admitted for the first time.

In its response to the Wolf review, published last week, the Department for Education argues that offering cash to employers "can be an effective way to encourage them to take on apprentices".

The revelation appears to fly in the face of previous comments made by skills minister John Hayes, in which he rebuffed calls for the Government to foot the bill for new apprentices.

Following the announcement in Chancellor George Osborne's Budget in March that 50,000 extra apprenticeship places were to be created, Mr Hayes told FE Focus that apprentices' wages should be paid for by employers, insisting that they must be "real jobs" rather than "virtual apprenticeships".

But the Department's response to Professor Alison Wolf's review of 14-19 vocational education paid tribute to successful apprenticeship schemes overseas in which companies are given a financial incentive to hire apprentices.

"Payments to employers can be an effective way to encourage them to take on apprentices, as demonstrated by a number of apprenticeship programmes abroad," it said.

"It is important to ensure that any such scheme will deliver the outcomes we want as well as offer value for money, and further work will be needed to assess the costs and benefits in the context of the cost of the programme as a whole - including any proposed adjustments to the general educational content of the apprenticeship framework for 16 to 18-year- olds."

In the Budget, Mr Osborne revealed that the Government will invest an extra pound;180 million over the next four years, creating 40,000 additional apprenticeships for young unemployed people and 10,000 higher apprenticeships - level 4 qualifications worth more than A-levels.

Mr Hayes said this would take the overall number of apprentices to more than 430,000 - a new record.

The Department's response to the Wolf report also said it would review apprenticeship contracting arrangements to try to ensure more money is spent on front-line teaching.

Education secretary Michael Gove has accepted all of Professor Wolf's findings. The Department has announced plans to commission a maths continuing professional development support programme, as part of its bid to ensure all young people obtain the equivalent of grade C or better in GCSE English and maths. It will fund level 2 courses for young people up to the age of 25 who have failed to reach this level.

Bodies other than sector skills councils (SSCs) will be encouraged to draw up new apprenticeship frameworks, while the role of SSCs as issuing authorities will be reviewed.

The Department also called for more 14-year-olds to be enrolled in colleges if they provided a "better learning option" for them.

Association of Learning Providers chief executive Graham Hoyle said it was not clear how any extra Government funding for apprenticeships would be distributed.

"If they are talking about providing funding to employers to fund training providers themselves, SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) would not touch that with a barge-pole," he said. "Not only would it deter companies from getting involved, companies who are doing (apprenticeships) would walk away.

"But it's not impossible that (the Government) could be putting more money into apprenticeships and making sure they deliver their targets by offering a subsidy to businesses, which would be very useful."

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