· 2 min read · News

SMEs, our engines of growth are not taking on apprentices. Bad news


There’s a scene in the 1998 Star Trek film Insurrection where Captain Jean-Luc Picard admires a beautifully made blanket by a Ba’ku inhabitant of a planet on which everyone has the secret of eternal youth.

In response to Picard's comments on the extraordinary craftsmanship it shows, his companion Anij says it's the work of students who are almost ready to become apprentices. "In 30 or 40 years some of them will take their place among the artisans," she says.

Aside from showing my rather sad knowledge of Star Trek, it's obvious the Ba'ku have developed a successful apprenticeship scheme. If only we could do the same in the UK, length of apprenticeship aside. For, according to viewers polled during our first HR Lunchtime Debate, the main barriers to setting up an apprenticeship scheme are: complexity, the level of time required and funding.

There has never been a greater need for apprenticeships. One in five young people is unemployed, costing the economy some £25 billion, according to the Audit Commission. The good news is 84% of our snap poll felt it was an employer's duty to help the career development of those not in employment, education or training - the so-called NEETs. But with complexity a major barrier, fewer than 10% of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) take on an apprentice. Given these businesses are the very engines of growth in our economy, this is the bad news.

Anything that helps reduce youth unemployment, that helps to grow UK businesses and that helps society to flourish has got to be good. Apprenticeships are a welcome step forward but government, education and employers need to work harder together to ensure the system is the best possible to deliver the benefits promised.

One thing Star Trek doesn't have a problem with is succession planning, the debonair Picard (Patrick Stewart) seamlessly taking over from the Enterprise captain those of us of a certain age remember so well, William Shatner's Cap'n James T Kirk. Employers should take note, for recent Corporate Research Forum report finds more than four in 10 are actively dissatisfied with their organisation's ability to fill senior positions.

More worryingly, HR is being cut out of succession planning. A Chartered Global Management Accountant report finds two-thirds of CEOs believe the CFO is the natural lead on talent and reveals that HR is out of kilter with other C-suite leaders on this issue.

This matters, because talent and succession planning are business-critical. With the average CEO tenure getting shorter, poor succession planning leaving your company with major risk and exposure, and a lack of diversity at board level, HR needs to exert its authority in this area.

Only then will succession become more objective and less about the old boys' club.