are apprenticeship too risky

As a growing business in the manufacturing sector, B&B see apprenticeships as being key to the long term success of our business. On paper an apprenticeship should be a win/win for both the young person and the employer but we see that there are a number of risks with the current system.

Issues for Apprentices.

With the steep rise in tuition fees making University unachievable for many young people, apprenticeships have provided a real route into work for thousands. It allows young people to gain a qualification whilst getting hands on work experience. This is not to say an apprenticeship doesn’t represent a risk to a young person. There have been a number of big companies who have been criticised for their apprenticeship programmes, treating the young people more as a cheap labour rather than as someone there to learn. Retail in particular was a sector criticised for the value of what apprentices were learning. This has led to some major changes in the way courses are set out with an emphasis placed on employers to provide real pathways into employment. Any apprenticeship is a two way relationship and we have certainly seen first-hand that young people are perhaps a little more cautious in who they want to work for and are always keen that they are going to be able to develop their skills. It is not even unusual for their parents/guardians to get involved at interview stage.

The other real risk for any apprentice is simply a potential loss of earnings. The minimum wage for apprentices is about half that of normal minimum wage, and so any apprentice is potentially halving their earning for 2-3 years when compared to getting into full employment. You would hope that there would be little in the way of financial pressures on these young people, but we all know that often isn’t the case and I can imagine it would be most disheartening working alongside someone doing a similar job who is significantly out-earning you. This means that unless you are going to significantly increase your skills/knowledge/ employability by becoming an apprentice it may not be with doing.

Issues for Employers

On paper apprenticeships are exactly what our own industry of manufacturing is crying out for. It is often said that there is a ‘lost generation’ of engineers and manufacturers from the 90s when the economic model changed and so today the industry is still dominated by baby boomers coming up to retirement. This has meant that skilled workers have become rarer and in turn driven up wages across the industry. As an example we have had several good candidates for CNC programming whose salaries were 30% higher than what we could afford as a business.The more cost-effective and long term solution for a small business like ours is not to pay those high wages but instead develop that talent in house and so we have taken on a number of apprentices throughout the years. As an employer it’s important not to underestimate the amount of time, management and often patience that goes into training up an apprentice. You have to balance out your desire to train and teach the apprentice with the day-to-day running of your business. Often easier said than done!

The other major consideration is retention. We had an apprentice recently who had been with us for a number of years, was being paid significantly more than the minimum and no sooner had he completed his graduation but he was snapped up for slightly more money from a significantly bigger company. Speaking with a number of other smaller sized business, we find that this is a common trend. Although obviously it is a free market, considering the high level of time, money and training  smaller companies such as ourselves put into offering an apprenticeship, having them ‘poached’ can be extremely disheartening and we would look for some way the government could mitigate this risk.

Mitigating Risk

The UK government has a goal to increase the number of apprenticeships to 3 million by 2020. In order to achieve this we feel that they need to be more actively involved in the process. At present many companies and their apprenticeship schemes are only audited by Training Providers who stand to gain financially from a placement. Companies both big and small should be audited and graded on the experience they provide, the opportunities they present, and in return there should be more done to prevent talent being developed and lost to bigger competitors. Apprentcieships can represent real value for both employers and young people but with guarantees on both sides many may get burnt and no longer wish to provide them.

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