Forum of Private Business urges Government to boost credibility of apprenticeship schemes

Marking National Apprenticeship Week (6– 10 February), the business support organisation made its submission to the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee's inquiry into apprenticeships, in which it called for a number of adjustments to make the scheme more appropriate to the needs and requirements of UK businesses.

The Forum says training courses such as apprenticeships need to be seen as more worthy, with better information provided to bosses about courses and their effectiveness. It's also urging decision-makers to incentivise small businesses that take on young people and reward those that do; to work more closely with employers on delivering training provision in terms of local need; and to simplify other aspects of these types of training schemes.

The Forum also reiterated in its submission previous calls on government to help improve the employability of pupils through better education, and additionally to formulate a plan which would bring together skills offerings in one place, with support from dedicated staff, such as on the new Business Link website.

The Forum's Jane Bennett said: "Our members value on-the-job training, and our latest research backs this up. Apprenticeships are an attractive training method for employers, but we think the Government could boost their appeal by making them much more business-friendly.

"The problem is that the majority of courses are not flexible, which is essential for small firms. There is also a lack of information available to small businesses about course benefits and therefore they find it difficult to navigate a complex system made up of numerous courses.

"Clear information on the effectiveness of courses is also especially important because small firms need good quality that increases competency.

"We would also like to see small firms who recruit apprentices to be given financial help to cover training costs and at least some of the wages. BIS research suggests companies see payback after three years – that's too long for small firms. While we welcome apprenticeship subsidies for those that go through the NAS, we feel they should be extended to those who carry out in-house training, either through tax or subsidies."

The Forum also suggests closer co-operation between business and education providers to allow a more tailored approach to local skill needs, and also welcomed the announced reduction on health and safety compliance for apprenticeships, but urged more in this area.
"A more proactive approach in reaching out to businesses will better shape the schemes being offered, and the benefits to small firms will become clearer in the process," added Miss Bennett. "Training providers must work must work with small businesses to better understand the needs of the local community and create courses which reflect the job opportunities in the labour market.

"Recent announcements on reducing health and safety compliance for small businesses that employ apprentices are welcome, but this reform should go further in cutting red tape, by reducing employment law burdens, and making it easier to let unsuitable apprentices go.

"As well as recommendations on apprenticeships, we believe improving the skills system more generally would help to improve the quality of training schemes. Small firms need work-ready recruits who have the basic skills. This we know is not always the experience of our members," she added.

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The Forum of Private Business has urged the Government to simplify the entire apprenticeship system in order to make them more business-friendly and appealing to industry leaders.