Apprentices welcomed

Small firms in England are positive about the value that apprenticeships bring to their workforce, a year after the apprenticeship levy was introduced in April 2017.

According to a study by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), the overwhelming majority of small business owners (96%) say they are likely to take on more apprentices in the next two years.

Most agreed on the advantages of taking on an apprentice, as 97% said it had been good value for money.

Meanwhile, 90% said apprentices had boosted productivity and 63% said they are more suited to the skills their business needs than other job candidates.

Businesses also showed a preference for running apprenticeships over hiring university graduates, with 55% preferring to recruit apprentices and 32% favouring graduates.

Sue Husband, director of the National Apprenticeship Service, said:

“We wholeheartedly believe that apprenticeships work – not just for apprentices, but businesses of all shapes and sizes, across all industries, sectors and job roles, and for people of all ages.”

Even among small businesses that had never taken on an apprentice, 71% said they were currently planning to take some on – but 39% felt there were barriers holding them back.

Around a third (29%) of businesses said the cost of starting an apprenticeship was the main barrier, followed by 27% claiming it’s hard to obtain funding and 15% not knowing where to start a scheme.

Despite small businesses’ enthusiasm for apprenticeships, many could be missing out on funding for them as less than half (45%) had accessed available funds from the apprenticeship levy.

SMEs with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million can use the levy, which involves paying 0.5% of their payroll into a central pot that is then used to fund the training of apprentices.

Rob Alder, head of business development at the AAT, said:

“Although there have been some negative comments on the impact of the apprenticeships reforms, our research shows there are many positives in training an apprentice and it is good to see that reflected in the SME market.

“Our research shows that England’s small businesses hugely endorse apprentices within their own firms and value the benefits apprentices can bring to them.

“Those who have taken on apprentices are happy with them, and even those who haven’t yet taken any on are making plans to do so.”

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