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Apprentice funding: Standing still to move forward?  

The government’s delay in making a decision on the UK’s future apprenticeship system is potentially positive for highly-skilled industries like ours.

Becoming a fully competent professional takes time and requires a real commitment by apprentices and their employer - something industries like electrotechnical and engineering have understood for a long time.

However, under the PAYE system and the Apprentice Credit account - the two options we were presented with when this consultation launched in March last year - employers would have faced increased bureaucracy and potential cashflow problems if they wanted to take on an apprentice.

There is no doubt this would have led to a drop in apprentice numbers in our industry and others where the majority of the training is carried out by SMEs and micro-businesses.

Thankfully this concern has not been lost on government.

Government response

Nick Boles MP, the skills minister, attributed the delay in announcing the new funding system to the reservations expressed by more than 900 employers who responded to the consultation.

The nature of their responses not only caused the delay but has led to BIS exploring the possibility of an alternative apprentice funding option which Mr Boles has said may, or may not, be ready by May’s general election.

A simple solution would be to give industries a choice of either continuing with the current model or adopting the new funding system - something that would fit in with the government’s “employer choice” mantra.

“We need a solution that gives young people the opportunity to forge careers in whatever industry they have the aptitude for and which supports employers in specialised industries with established apprenticeships”

Those sectors which are newer to apprenticeships or populated by very large companies may well find the proposed apprentice reforms workable but in our industry - and others like it - employers want to be able to continue with the current system.

The government faces the massive challenge of finding a funding system that works for everyone.

What we need is a solution that gives young people the opportunity to forge careers in whatever industry they have the aptitude for and which supports employers in specialised industries with established apprenticeships.

The government’s decision to delay changes to apprenticeship funding gives them more time to work towards this goal – and gives us hope that we can carry on making the case for tried and tested funding arrangements to continue in those industries where they are successful.

Alex Meikle is director of employment and skills at the Electrical Contractors’ Association

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