Students and companies keen to meet government apprenticeship targets but need more support

Apprentices feel they might the right choice in choosing a training scheme over university, and businesses approve of the system too - but there is more work to be done

Cameron and apprentices

The Tories set themselves a big target on apprenticeships in the run up to the 2015 general election.

The party made a manifesto pledge to have 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, and introduced a new system whereby businesses would pay for these training positions.

However, four years on, the perception of apprenticeships is still mixed and both students and companies say they need more support to help meet the government’s target.

Apprenticeships got a boost in popularity and became more appealing to school leavers in the wake of higher tuition fees.

Many students who might previously have submitted applications to universities without a second thought found themselves weighing up their options more carefully, and for some, an apprentice scheme proved to be a good alternative to a degree.

However, despite the government’s target of bringing more young people into the workforce via apprenticeships, many school leavers still find it difficult to get the information they need about the schemes that are available.

In some cases, schools are failing to provide information, and still focus on university places and Ucas forms.

Moshe Shamash, 21, says that he had no clear idea about what he wanted to do when he left school, but he knew that university was not the right path for him.

“It was a mixture of grades and the fact that I wasn’t sure,” he says. “I was hearing stories about people who didn’t get jobs after uni.”

Shamash is now a software engineer apprentice at Workplace by Facebook, but he tells the Independent that it was not easy to pursue this path.

“At school there was no mention of apprenticeships,” he says. “The general feeling that you have to go to uni was quite prevalent. They weren’t too impressed that I was going on an apprenticeship scheme.”

This experience is echoed among other apprentices.

Jack Moore, 20, an apprentice at Vodafone, says that although his school was initially supportive of applications for apprenticeship schemes, “that very quickly went away”.

“Then it was all about Ucas and going to uni, so I was the only one in my year who actually went on to do an apprenticeship,” he says.

Despite the lack of support from some schools, for many young people the benefits of doing an apprenticeship far outweigh the attractions of going to university.

Sales apprentice buys her own home aged 20 after working five jobs rather than going to university

Nayan Maghmare, 19, is also on the apprenticeship scheme at Vodafone. He says he joined the scheme because it felt like a “win-win situation”.

“You get corporate experience and you earn money. There are particular skills that you learn on the job that you might not learn at uni,” he says, highlighting time management in particular as a skill he has picked up in the workplace.

Ishaan Korotan, 19, decided on the apprenticeship route for similar reasons, joining the scheme at Cisco. “I’m really interested in cyber security and I thought ‘what better way to learn about it than by working for the company’ – in terms of knowledge and skills you get from working within the industry it’s quite valuable.”

It is not all upsides, though. Sri Konreddy, 19, is also at Cisco, and says she has less free time than her friends who are still in education.

“I’m adulting much sooner than my friends at university,” she says.

However, she adds: “It’s a good thing for me. I’ve made friends for life and the support has been great.”

Meanwhile, for businesses, while apprentices are widely viewed as a good thing, the government’s apprenticeship levy, aimed at supporting these schemes, has not gone down so well.

The levy, which was introduced in 2017, requires employers paying more than £3m in total each year to allocate 0.5 per cent of their payroll costs to training.

This financial obligation was supposed to support the apprenticeship strategy – but in 2017-18, apprenticeship starts were down 24 per cent year-on-year, falling from 494,900 to 375,800.

James Reed, chairman and chief executive of Reed Recruitment, says: “It’s clear that the apprenticeship levy is in urgent need of simplification in order to make a success of it.

“It is also clear that financial incentives on their own are not enough to achieve the kind of results the government had hoped for.”

Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, has long been a vocal critic of the levy, although he supports the aim of increasing the numbers of apprentices joining the workforce.

“The apprenticeship levy was supposed to increase the number of new apprentices, in a genuine effort to combat the UK’s skills gap,” he says.

“On paper, so far so good; but in reality it has proven an unmitigated disaster, and has led to a catastrophic collapse in new apprenticeship starts.

“The problem is part perception, and part that the levy is just too damn complicated and time consuming to claim for businesses already heavily burdened with the existing tax bureaucracy.

“Business owners, especially of SMEs, just don’t have the time to get their heads around how to claim the money. What we need is a simple system where the government pays businesses directly for each apprentice they take on.”

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