Is a lack of skills putting employers off apprenticeships?

The Government may have promised £1.4bn to create new apprenticeships, but that isn't accounting for the shortage of skills among school-leavers...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 24 Feb 2012

Is Government funding going to the right places? Not really, reckons a new survey, despite the Government’s best efforts to encourage small businesses to create jobs for Britain’s one million unemployed 16-24 year-olds. Just a fifth of SMEs are planning to take on someone ‘under a training, internship or voluntary scheme’, while another quarter said they’re ‘considering’ it.

The findings, by publishing company The Donut Group, are surprising, considering the focus that’s been put on apprenticeships as a way to reduce youth unemployment. This time last year, the Government pledged £1.4bn a year to help boost the number of apprenticeships as part of what David Cameron called ‘the most pro-business, pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda ever unleashed by a government.’

Clearly, though, that’s not translating to actual jobs. Why? It could be, as Jane Scott Paul from the Association of Accounting Technicians pointed out last week, that while Government funding has done a lot to increase the number of business that want to get involved, ‘many SMEs lack the resources to cover the cost of establishing programmes’. Or it could be a lack of awareness, which Scott Paul also alluded to: ‘there is a significant lack of knowledge about the breadth of roles apprenticeships can cover’.

But could it be something else? MT spoke to Hiring Hub co-founder Sara Jones today, who said her experiences of interviewing apprentices hadn’t been particularly encouraging. ‘I was shocked at how raw they are,’ she said. ‘It’s really hard to find anything to talk to them about because they’ve got no experience in the workplace whatsoever. They couldn’t put a sentence together, to be honest. I appreciate they might not have a lot of experience – but it felt like just the general conversation was sometimes a bit of a battle for them. I think it’ll put employers off.’

Which comes back to The Donut Group’s point: while Government money to create apprenticeship schemes is all well and good (we particularly like Apprenticeship Training Agencies), would it be more useful to put resources into giving youngsters the skills they need for the workplace? We hear employers complain again and again that the school and university leavers don’t have the right literacy and numeracy skills to get by at work – but when even conversation is ‘a battle’, that’s worrying.

Time to get serious about giving young people the right start, rather than creating controversial schemes, such as the much-maligned workfare system? To paraphrase the old saying: you can take a horse to water, but if the water lacks even basic thirst-quenching skills, we doubt it’ll drink. Er, or something.

- Look out for Sara Jones' My Week column.

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