British fashion house: has Britain gone apprenticeship mad?

Posted on 16 Mar 2016 by Jonny Williamson

The Government’s new apprenticeship levy designed to support its target of creating 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020, which implies almost every school leaver will be an apprentice … has the UK gone apprenticeship mad? Is this figure either achievable or sustainable, asks fashion manufacturer, David Nieper.

Derbyshire-based fashion manufacturer, David Nieper is creating a further 100 new places over the coming three years at the company’s sewing school to help address the skills shortage in fashion manufacturing caused by decades of fashion designers taking their production overseas.

Apprenticeships and on the job training are not new concepts at David Nieper, which was established in 1961 and has always supported the development of local skills by on the job training for all of its 55 year history.

The company has already lived through nine governments, many of which have introduced  ‘apprenticeship style’ initiatives over the years including; the UK Industrial Training Boards introduced in 1964; Callaghan’s YOPs; Thatcher’s YTS, YTPs, the TECs, and more recently the National Apprenticeship Service with Modern Apprenticeships.

David Nieper is one of the businesses that will be required to pay the apprenticeship levy from April 2016, even though it already invests 5% of its payroll in skills training – ten-times more than the 0.5% set by the Chancellor.

Managing director, Christopher Nieper welcomes the focus on skills, creating more opportunities for young people and the provision of a real alternative to university education; however, it does present yet another stealth tax to small businesses who are already investing in skills.

Christopher Nieper, managing director, David Nieper.

He commented: “As a business, we have always invested heavily in skills and training, and operated a successful on the job training system, which allows specialist manufacturing skills to be passed from experienced staff onto the young generation.

“However, the new apprentice levy system doesn’t recognise the hugely valuable in-house training delivered by employers themselves, for SMEs that removes control of how we deliver training, which can impact directly on the productivity of training itself.”

Nieper continued: “There is a danger that the Government’s ambitious 3 million target and apprenticeship ‘Pledge-o-meter’ turns modern apprenticeships into a numbers game, with little consideration for what businesses or indeed young apprentices actually require in the workplace.

“For us the vital aspects of an apprenticeship are the relationship between trainer and trainee, the relevance of training to the modern workplace and skills required and the investment of time for knowledge to be imparted to the trainee.”

Maintenance Engineer at David Nieper, Chris Oxley started his career as an apprentice in 1970, at the age of 15 as a joiner.

He commented: “On the job training is vital in any skilled profession, I still use the skills I learnt as an apprentice in my everyday-work almost fifty years later, so it’s great to see a return to more apprenticeships.

“However, these do need to be more closely regulated, and from experience I have seen companies use young people as cheap labour and don’t invest the time to pass on skills properly. That is an area that needs to be addressed.”