16 May 2019

The Government is letting apprentices down

Lord Fox, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the House of Lords, has highlighted the concerns surrounding the apprenticeship levy. He focussed especially on the quality of apprenticeships, excessive bureaucracy and limited flexibility.

The National Federation of Builders (NFB) welcomes Lord Fox’s perceptive comments but can identify other issues that must be tackled such as how we spend the levy and how we measure success and retain staff.

Larger companies can pass 25% of their levy vouchers to their supply chain but, with small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) training four in five of all construction apprentices, they should be able to pass a greater percentage.

This would particularly help companies who cannot spend their vouchers because there is a delay in approving apprenticeship standards. The Government’s push for reforming apprenticeships started off on the wrong foot by focussing on numbers rather than on quality. The aspiration was to recruit 3 million new apprentices by 2020. However, the goal of employers is to recruit and retain high-quality staff. Unless our focus is on quality and on apprenticeships completion rather than staff, it will be a lot harder to raise standards.

Enforcing late payment measures, reforming planning, and making procurement a level playing field are practicable solutions that ensure businesses can take on new staff.

Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, said: "If we want higher apprenticeship standards then we must focus on completions rather than starts. This change must be part of reform, which also sees more of the levy going to the supply chain.

"High-quality apprentices also need consistent employment opportunities. By being able to receive more than 25% of a supply chain partner’s levy, the companies that provide around 80% of the industry’s training can put that money toward apprenticeships."