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Express & Star comment: Reform needed over apprenticeships

By Star Comment | Opinions | Published:

There is little doubt that when run properly, apprenticeships can provide a wonderful route into the world of work.

In many industries they play a key role in helping to close the productivity and skills gap, as well as enabling firms to retain talent at a local level.

But despite years of tinkering with the current system in a bid to make it work for employers and workers, there remains one huge dark cloud hanging over apprenticeships that simply must be addressed.

The apprenticeship levy, which requires all employers with annual wages of more than £3 million to pay 0.5 per cent of their bill to the Treasury, has proved to be a major stumbling block since it was brought in back in 2017.

It was supposed to ensure around three million apprenticeships were created by this year, boosting the country’s productivity in the process.

Yet it has failed miserably, with fewer than one million new apprenticeships launched over the period and the number of new starters actually falling in recent years.

Far from encouraging new firms to take on apprentices, the system has confused and annoyed in equal measure.

Many have viewed it as more of a deterrent, prompting employers to walk away from the scheme in their droves.

It is a damning indictment of how the system is currently being run that just a tiny fraction of firms in the UK currently take on apprentices. With a new government in place, it is undoubtedly a time for the levy to be reformed.

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For a start, there needs to be a reduction in the amount of needless bureaucracy around training programmes.

Employers must be trusted to offer the right levels of training without the need for constant probes into how the cash is being spent. On top of that, the millions of pounds going back into the Treasury must be invested in apprenticeships.

There also needs to be a huge boost in funding to help non-levy paying small and medium-sized businesses to provide apprenticeships. At the moment, the entire system represents a huge missed opportunity.

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