The Apprenticeship Levy needs refining to enable employers to more effectively manage their workforces, a senior figure at Wakefield College has said.
Joanne Taylor, executive director for employer engagement and apprenticeships at the college, said that the scheme was very effective at both creating and managing more apprenticeships but that the scheme should be able to better support employers to both pay them and manage their training.
Ms Taylor was speaking at a roundtable event organised by service firm Engie and The Yorkshire Post to coincide with National Apprenticeship Week.
“When you talk to some of the biggest users of apprenticeships like councils or the NHS, they will say that one of the biggest things for them is not being able to use the money for salaries,” she said.
“Being able to use it in some part for wages would be a massive thing; currently you can only use it for training. You can’t use it for anything else.
“I think that a lot of employers are just seeing it as a tax because they haven’t got the money to pay for a salary, or if they do it is a poor salary, this could make a real difference.”
She added that the scheme should be refined to implement a sliding scale of the balance of time that apprentices spend either training and working. The rate is currently set at 20 per cent.
“There are some industries, like construction, where you need lots of training – you might think 30-40 per cent is a more realistic number then,” she said.
“But then if you are an accountant your knowledge delivery is on the job. Then it might fall short of 20 per cent.
“It needs refining, it is still a little bit of a blunt instrument.”
Engie, who sponsored the Apprenticeship Category at last year’s Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Awards, has a wide-ranging apprenticeship scheme covering everything from plumbing to cyber security.
Its head of learning, development and social value, Lee Firth, told the roundtable that the true value of apprenticeship schemes will really become apparent once more and more people qualify via the Apprenticeship Levy scheme.
“You will have so many people in senior positions who have gone through the levy process” he said.
“They will come through it all with no debt and fully supported and are now at director levels.
“That will really sell what apprentices are.”
One figure to have risen to director level at Engie from joining as an apprentice is Nathan Brough.
He said: “We have apprentices from 16-years-old up to 75.
“You can have an opportunity to get that experience and feel from the job while you are on the job, and you get that academic training as well. Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing them come through.
“That is the life of the business going forward.”
Ms Taylor added that what she called the “stigma” around apprentices was in her experience gradually eroding as more children and teachers became aware of their value.
“You get free training,” she said
“You can be trained right through to level six. By the time you get to the end of it they get that message of ‘why would I not want to be an apprentice?’.”
Matthew Gordon, managing director at Spectra First, said that often careers advisers as well as students had a lack of awareness of what an apprenticeship can offer.