SMEs could deliver 1m more apprenticeships

SMEs in England have the potential to double the number of apprentices they take on to well over two million, if the Government can get the incentives and package of support right.

The FSB report, ‘Make or Break: Getting apprenticeship reform right for small businesses,’ found that one in four FSB members (24%) already employ an apprentice, but a further quarter (24%) would consider taking one on in the future. If this reflects the situation of the rest of England’s 4.7 million small firms, there is potential to deliver well over a million new apprenticeships with smaller employers.

Among the barriers to achieving this is a change which requires small businesses to contribute towards the cost of training their apprentice. This is expected to result in a fall in the number of businesses offering apprenticeships. To limit this, FSB is calling on the Government to provide a more generous small employer incentive than is currently proposed. This will ensure extra support is appropriately targeted at the smallest firms that can least afford the extra upfront costs of taking on an apprentice.

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: “Smaller businesses are taking on more apprentices than ever before. What’s more, a quarter of our members say they are considering employing an apprentice in the future. This presents a huge opportunity and is great news for vocational training, which has become an increasingly attractive option for young people put off by the rising cost and uncertain returns of a university degree.

“We are at a make-or-break moment. We need the Government to hit the right balance between incentives and support. While many small firms are committed to apprenticeships, many more continue to be worried about the time and personal commitment required.”

Ministers must focus on three main areas, according to Cherry: more targeted and localised information for businesses with high growth potential, specific and practical guidance on how a smaller company can take on an apprentice, and a more generous package of incentives and support for those which do.