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National Apprenticeship Week sees firms still slow to train next generation

A leading provider
to major construction and utilities firms, Develop Training Limited (DTL), says
too few businesses are making a commitment to apprenticeships despite
government initiatives to promote them.

DTL, which has centres in
Linlithgow near Edinburgh, Romford, York, Derby, Bolton, Swindon and Lisburn,
Northern Ireland, highlighted the issue while giving its backing to National
Apprenticeship Week 2019, which runs from 4 to 9 March.

In the run up to the week,
the government launched a new promotional campaign, Blaze A Trail, to convince
more individuals, families and employers to embrace apprenticeships. Previous
initiatives have included Trailblazer Apprenticeships in England and the
controversial Apprenticeship Levy.

Yet DTL points out that
government statistics for the academic year 2017/18 showed a drop of almost a
quarter in the number of apprenticeship starts.

John Kerr, DTL’s Director
of Training & Education, said: “It’s clear that businesses in the
construction and utility sectors – in common with other industries – have not
committed to apprenticeships as enthusiastically as the government hoped. The
difference with some industries is that we face an enormous skills gap in
construction and utilities, so it’s crucial that the sector responds, including
embracing apprenticeships. The levy was intended to nudge them in the right
direction but so far, if anything, it has had the opposite effect.”

He highlighted comments
from senior HR professionals at DTL’s Industry Skills Forums that the levy had
caused confusion and even suspicion with some delegates labelling it a stealth
tax. Others said the chance to recoup the levy was not enough incentive when
set against the long-term commitment to run an apprenticeship programme.

The training company, whose
customers includes some of the biggest names in water, gas, electricity and
construction, hopes that attitudes are changing.

“We and our customers have
no doubt that, managed well, apprenticeships do work,” said Mr Kerr.
“Businesses have now had nearly two years to decide how to respond to the levy,
and in April the funds that big firms have paid in will begin to be taken by
the Treasury. That should refocus attention on the question of
apprenticeships.”

He said it wasn’t clear how
uncertainty around Brexit, including the availability of foreign workers, and
concerns about global economic slowdown would affect decisions about
apprenticeships and other HR programmes.

“There have been reports of
a contraction in the construction sector because investors are delaying
decisions, but that doesn’t mean the UK can afford to put its infrastructure on
hold,” said Mr Kerr.

He said the rise of offsite
construction was an opportunity to develop apprenticeships in a factory
environment, which is easier than on construction sites. The continuing housing
shortage could also lead to incentives by this government or a future one to
stimulate building through any potential recession.

“Whatever happens to the
economy, we need a new generation of skilled operatives to replace an ageing
workforce,” said Mr Kerr. “If we delay making a commitment to apprenticeships
for whatever reason, that would be a serious mistake. I hope that National
Apprenticeship Week and the campaigns around it will help to generate momentum
so that more businesses invest in what are highly cost-effective ways to
deliver a loyal and skilled workforce. As approved providers under the levy, we
are 100 per cent committed to do all we can to ensure that this happens and to
help our customers to maximise their return on investment in people.”

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