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Why wouldn't you support apprenticeships?

The decision to reduce funding for firms providing apprenticeships has got Billy MacInnes scratching his head over the strategy

I have to confess to having a very strong interest in stories concerning apprenticeships. I think it’s because I find it hard to believe that anybody would be against them. How can anyone find something wrong with companies taking on school-leavers and equipping them with the on-the-job skills and training to become qualified to do a job? Why would anyone seek to deny young people who don’t want to go to university or college the opportunity to learn skills at an employer and end up in meaningful employment?

Apprenticeships are big in Germany, for example, and they are recognised as playing a very important part in that country’s economy. More than 500,000 new apprenticeship contracts are concluded every year. The split between young people entering apprenticeships and going to university is close to 50:50. Companies in Germany are more than happy to take part in the apprenticeship system. In 2014, more than 431,000 companies (or over 20% of all businesses in Germany) participated in the scheme.

The scheme works for employers and for apprentices. According to a report published in 2015, 71% of apprentices were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their apprenticeship and working conditions. Among those reporting the best conditions were young people training to become IT specialists.

The reason I mention this is because of a recent report that the UK’s Education and Skills Funding Agency is contemplating reducing support for non-levy apprenticeships for the second half of this year by as much as 89%. This effectively means training providers may not be able to help deliver skilled staff for SMEs.

Graham Hunter, VP EMEA at CompTIA told MicroScope , that cutting allocations to training providers meant SMEs would lose access “to one of the best sources of talent available to them; willing workers who have chosen not to go to university and learn their craft through gaining real-life, industry experience”.

It’s a valid concern. Especially at a time when the UK is already suffering from an IT skills crisis, a situation which is only likely to become worse after Brexit is concluded. Hunter suggested there was a “risk of a digital skills blackout across the UK”. While some might describe that as overly-dramatic, there’s no doubt that slashing funding for apprenticeships appears counter-intuitive at a time when employers are looking for young people with IT skills and there are young people available who could be are furnished with the IT skills to get them into employment.

The proposed reduction in apprentices for SMEs comes as a report for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers estimated the overall  number of apprentices would fall by 17% in the short term. The report also found large employers with more than 250 employees were more likely to increase their apprentice recruitment in the medium term compared to SMEs.

But why would anyone want to make it harder to provide apprenticeships? In any case, aren’t there many jobs in IT, as with any other industry, where a university qualification isn’t really required? Why push young people to go to university (and saddle them with debts of up to £50,000) if the job they come out to doesn’t need it? Why not get them into work sooner and give them more time to gain the skills they need on the job? It would take more than a university education to work that one out.

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