Apprentice recruitment fight for budget cut councils

Yorkshire's public sector bodies have a hard task ahead to both compete with private sector employers to attract apprentices and to challenge misconceptions about what apprenticeships entail, officials said.

North Yorkshire County Council's base in Northallerton. It has to recruit 913 apprentices every year to recover its £2m apprenticeship levy in full.

Both private and public sector employers with a wage bill exceeding £3m have to make annual levy payments worth 0.5 per cent of their pay bill, which incentivises apprentice recruitment but puts the two sectors in even greater direct competition at a time when council budgets have been cut.

North Yorkshire County Council has to recruit 913 apprentices every year if it is to spend its annual apprenticeship levy, but the authority’s assistant chief executive, Justine Brooksbank, said: “In North Yorkshire, the availability of apprentices presents a significant challenge. Recent figures show that unemployment in the county is significantly less than the national average.

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“The county council has to compete hard for staff locally which will be no different for apprentices when all local employers are also trying to recruit them.”

As reported by The Yorkshire Post this summer, the North York Moors National Park Authority fears competition from private firms means the public sector is in danger of falling short of the target for 2.3 per cent of its workforce to consist of apprentices.

“While this target does not present a challenge to the Authority, it does mean that there is significantly more competition to attract apprentices,” officers said it in a report.

“The picture in North Yorkshire is such that there are simply not enough young people looking for apprenticeships for the public sector to meet its target - this is before the needs of the private sector locally are taken into consideration.

“An inevitable consequence of this is that young people are becoming more selective in what they choose to do and more aware of what other employers offer.”

Key to filling apprenticeship positions will be educating people about what opportunities they offer in the modern working world, said Councillor Mohammed Rafique, Leeds Council’s executive board member for employment, enterprise and opportunity.

He said: “There is still a bit of a myth around what an apprenticeship is. People tend to think they are connected with the construction industry but they could be in any field of work at any level.”

Both councils have plans to boost apprenticeship numbers.

Ms Brooksbank said: “The county council is taking steps to develop an innovative apprenticeship programme which will focus on North Yorkshire’s future needs, targeting shortage areas such as civil engineering and adult social care, accountancy and legal services.

“These apprenticeships will range from entry to higher level - equivalent to degree qualifications - and will be used to supplement the county council’s usual graduate entry.”

She added: “The county council hopes that for “hard to fill” graduate areas such as engineering it will provide a bigger pool of applicants trained and skilled to a high level and greater interest from local young people who can complete their qualifications free of debt.”

According to Coun Rafique, Leeds Council - the second largest metropolitan local authority in England - will not be making a standing start as it strives to reach the government’s 2.3 per cent target.

“The council has long been an advocate of apprenticeships as an opportunity to develop our workforce, providing entry and progression routes for residents to earn while they learn, and ensure the council as an employer is more representative of the diversity of the city.

“While this commitment has been a part of our organisational development approach for many years, it is being given new importance as a result of the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy.”

He added: “The council will seek to support a continued growth in apprenticeship numbers and sustain the quality of the training.

“We will do this by marketing the council’s apprenticeships especially to younger people and people from priority groups and areas in the city and adopt higher level apprenticeships to support up-skilling our existing workforce to meet our workforce development plans.”