The Government put this promise into its manifesto 4 years ago. Whilst many people are heavily focused on the referendum issues that appeared in the same manifesto, this promise is vital if we are to grow our economy, and particularly as we will need large numbers of engineers and other STEM based employees who for several decades have been sourced through the EU. Last Monday a written question that had been asked by John Hayes MP was answered by Anne Milton, the Minister responsible for Apprenticeships. Having said she answered the question, it is shocking that she did so without admitting the failings it discloses. Given that she refers to the manifesto promise and that we are now nearly 80% through the period covered by it and she is now changing it from a promise to an ambition is very disturbing. In addition she is clearly out of touch with how the actions she refers to are impacting small businesses:
JH: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to meet its target of delivering 3 million apprenticeships; and what the timeframe is to meet that target.
AM: In 2015 we set an ambitious goal of 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, and that remains our ambition but we will not sacrifice quality to get there.
We have introduced a wide range of reforms to apprenticeships to improve their quality and encourage employers across England to increase the number of apprenticeships they offer.
New apprenticeship standards across all levels are being designed and driven by industry to give apprentices the skills that businesses really need. Over 420 standards are available for employers to use, and we can see that employers are moving quickly to this new higher-quality offer. During the first half of 2018/19, nearly 60% of starts were on the new standards.
And this is a real issue as far as I am concerned. One of the challenges our company faces and indeed many other small companies face is that none of these 420 standards are a good fit and when our company approached the Government agency that assembles them last Summer to request a standard that would fit our work or find a way of obtaining a modular system so we could take elements from existing standards and link them together we were told that it would not be possible to do so and we would simply need to adopt a standard that for us is miles away from what is needed.
We are supporting employers to make the long-term, sustainable investment in training which will generate more apprenticeship starts. We have halved the co-investment rate from 10% to 5% for new starts from April 2019, to ease the cost of apprenticeship training for smaller employers. Later this month we will increase the amount that levy paying employers can transfer to other employers from 10% to 25%.
And this is simply based on the Governments internal communication, we as a business have received no indications of what is on offer to a business of our size and this means the support is non existent!
In addition, our new communication campaign, ‘Fire It Up’, is supporting our ambition to expand apprenticeships so that even more people can benefit from the long-term opportunities they provide.
It is clear that Anne Milton and her colleague Gillian Keegan who is the MP for Chichester and has recently been appointed as the Parliamentary Apprenticeship Ambassador need to take the time to listen to businesses and then come up with some changes to their approach. When at the beginning of March I discovered Gillian had been appointed to this role I contacted her on twitter and she suggested I send an email to organise a visit. The email went out on 6th March and was followed up on 15th March and so far no responses have been received, let alone a suggested date for a meeting which would allow us explain how our business would need a different approach to the mechanisms currently in place!