Apprenticeship Levy is ‘not a numbers game’

Published:  03 May, 2017

Apprentices, Apprenticeship Levy
Not a numbers game — Tony Howard.

Following the launch of the Apprenticeship Levy early last month (April), the industry has expressed concern about a critical report from the all-party parliamentary Education Committee that dubbed it a ‘blunt instrument’ that would do little to tackle the skills gap without significant change. The committee said the levy would drive up numbers of apprentices, but not necessarily in the industry sectors and regions where they were most needed.

The committee called for a focus on ‘outcomes’ and judging the success of apprenticeships by, for example, ‘whether individual apprentices secure employment’ and considering restructuring the levy on a sectoral and regional basis — or even by individual employers.

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) is one of the associations spearheading the development of apprenticeships in the built-environment sector, said it understood the committee’s concerns, but said the levy itself was not at fault.

Tony Howard, director of training at BESA, said, ‘We have been stressing all along that this is not a numbers game. The focus of the funding needs to be on key industry sectors where there is not just a skills shortage but where that shortage is likely to have the most impact on the economy.

‘This includes many engineering professions where shortages and quality issues are hampering delivery of key building and infrastructure projects.’

The Apprenticeship Levy means that 22 000 business with an annual turnover of more that £3 million, are liable to pay 0.5% of their annual wage bill into the fund. The levy is aiming to generate £3 billion a year, with the ambition to train three million people across all private and public-sector businesses by 2020. As well as funding roles for new apprentices, the levy will also create the opportunity for existing employees to upskill, as well as new jobs.

Tony Howard suggests that the system could be improved by allowing levy payers to pass on more than just 10% of their funds to their supply chains. He said, ‘Many major contractors have said they would happily invest in their supply chains by helping sub-contractors grow their skills base, so we would urge the Government not to curb their enthusiasm and be more generous with the amount they can pass on.’

The chair of the Education Committee Neil Carmichael MP said, ‘Ministers must recognise that they would happily invest in their supply chains by helping sub-contractors grow their skills base, so we would urge the Government not to curb their enthusiasm and be more generous with the amount they can pass on.’

Speaking on behalf of BSRIA, chief executive Julia Evans said, ‘BSRIA welcomes the emphasis on increasing investment in apprenticeships, and the industry is ready to stimulate more training and apprenticeships, However, quality is essential over quantity per se, and BSRIA is keen to see long-term success for the scheme.

‘What is paramount is how important it is to close the industry skills gap. Apprenticeships provide the backbone for a career in engineering for many employees, and no compromises should be made regarding them. In essence, the levy must meet industry and apprenticeship needs.’

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