Government ‘must fully-fund apprenticeships’

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The Government needs to offer a fully-funded apprenticeship scheme to help employers boost vocational training, plumbing entrepreneur Charlie Mullins has said.

Speaking at The Great British Business Show in London, Mr Mullins said firm financial support is needed to get more young people into skilled trades.

Mr Mullins founded Pimlico Plumbers in 1979 having started an apprenticeship at 15. Today, the business employs 280 people and has turnover of nearly £25m.

The company, which currently employs around 40 apprenticeships, would not be where it was today without vocational training, Mr Mullins said.

“Everybody who comes on as a tradesperson has to have done an apprenticeship, we don’t employ anyone without it,” he said.

“We’re a successful company down to one thing: apprenticeships.”

Mr Mullins was awarded an OBE for plumbing services in the 2015 New Years Honours List and has been speaking to Prime Minister David Cameron about boosting apprenticeships in skilled trades.

He said: “We’ve got a massive skills shortage out there. If you think plumbers are dear now, you can imagine what they’re going to be like the way it’s going.

“The skills shortage is definitely something that could be solved by recruiting more youngsters.”

In December, the Coalition government announced it had increased the number of apprenticeships by two million in its five-year term.

During the General Election campaign, Cameron committed the newly-elected Tory government to adding a further three million apprenticeships

Cost remains a barrier to many firms that want to employ an apprentice, Mr Mullins said. Businesses pay £45,000 in wages and training costs per three year apprenticeship.

Reforming employment benefit for young people could allow more companies to train up apprentices, he said.

He said: “I’ve been talking to the government about getting a fully-funded apprenticeship scheme going.

“Rather than giving youngsters unemployment money or benefit money, I’ve said’ you’re better off turning it into an employment allowance’.

“Give it to the employer to set it up and the employer can put it towards a wage.”

Currently, Pimlico Plumbers gets around 300 applications for apprenticeships each month, but can only recruit one or two youngsters.

Mr Mullins said: “Myself and many other businesses would take on another 100 apprentices tomorrow if they would do fully-funded apprenticeships.

“I believe it’s the way forward. It would certainly cut down youth unemployment and sort out the skills shortage.

“It’s also going to boost the economy. If these things don’t happen, then the country will struggle going forward.”

Businesses are not looking for “a free meal” by asking for incentives, Mr Mullins added.

He said: “[Apprentices] do cost money and it’s quite a long time until you get a return from your investment.

“But in three to four years, they’re working the way you want them to work, they’re part of society and they’re also a taxpayer. It’s a win-win-win situation.”

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The Labour party’s stance on apprenticeships harmed its election chances, Charlie Mullins has claimed.

Former Labour business tsar Lord Alan Sugar “got it wrong” in terms of strategy, Mr Mullins said.

He said: “The scheme that Labour had going [in 2009] went flat, they didn’t get apprentices on board.

“I told them at the time the way to do it, by giving businesses incentives to take on apprentices.”

He added: “I honestly believe if Labour had taken the advice then, they may well have been in power today.”