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Government outlines apprenticeship plans

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The government has outlined a package of plans to increase the number of quality apprenticeships across England

Employers are being consulted for their views on the introduction of an apprenticeship levy, planned for 2017 and designed to increase investment in training and apprenticeships.

Other proposed steps include a requirement to take a company’s apprenticeship provision into account when awarding government contracts worth more than £10 million, and the publication of new industry standards so that apprentices are taught the right skills.

Skills minister Nick Boles said that these steps will help to keep the UK competitive in a global economy. “Skilled people are the lifeblood of a strong economy but for too long UK businesses have invested too little in developing their employees’ skills to meet the demands of a competitive global market,” he said. “The apprenticeship levy will ensure that businesses invest in skills and training, and will act as a much-needed shot in the arm for the country’s productivity.”

The steps form part of the government’s pledge to support three million new apprenticeships by 2020, which was announced in the July budget.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said that the organisation welcomes the government’s commitment to increasing the quantity and quality of apprenticeships, but added that a focus on what apprentices are learning is essential.

“It’s important that the introduction of an apprenticeship levy is used to focus on increasing the quality of apprenticeships and not just the numbers, which means that this investment by large employers should mostly be reserved for the creation of more Level 3 and above apprenticeships,” he said.

“The government has also rightly highlighted its concern about falling investment in training over the last 20 years, and while increased investment in apprenticeships is welcome it is not a panacea in itself. We need to understand the broader factors that will boost training investment and productivity and ensure that people skills are utilised more effectively in the workplace, including, crucially, investment by employers in their leadership and management capability,” Willmott added.

Among those welcoming the announcements was director of employment and skills for the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) Alex Meikle.

He said: “We recognise the pressing need for the whole of industry to get behind the drive to increase apprenticeships. Much detail remains to be worked out but we are supportive of a levy on employers and hope this will support those who currently invest to continue, and incentivise those who do not engage with apprenticeships to begin to do so.”