The manufacturer’s apprentice

Posted on 3 Feb 2012

Jane Gray introduces the challenge for apprenticeship growth in the UK.

At the close of 2011 Sector Skills Council (SSC), Semta revealed that registrations for NVQ qualifications in the UK had dipped by around 2% with 13,933 registrations in the third quarter.

For Philip Whiteman, chief executive of Semta this is a worrying trend. According the SSCs data 363,000 people across its sectors of engineering and manufacturing are under-skilled by international standards. Furthermore – if targets for manufacturing growth are to be met by 2016 then an estimated 96,300 new engineers, scientists and technologists will be required.

“The government is investing record levels of public funds in apprenticeships for all age groups, including the recent announcement of a £1,500 incentive for small businesses taking on their first apprentice”

Given this challenge Semta is on a mission to prompt more employers to continue investment in up-skilling and recruiting and to ensure that their investment in training is rigorous – providing meaningful training which will bring competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

An important part of this will be the provision of properly regulated Apprenticeships but, as many employers will vouch, this provision is easier said than done. Myriad barriers to apprenticeship provision exist for companies in the UK – especially for SMEs. Mr Whiteman, says the onus is on government to remove these obstacles to apprenticeships and, ultimately, economic growth.

The challenge

Philip Whiteman, CEO of sector skills council, Semta, explains what his organisation and government are doing to overcome employer barriers to apprenticeship provision.

Despite recent government commitments to cutting red tape, some employers remain worried about navigating the bureaucracy and the time it takes to organise and manage an apprenticeship. Concerns are most often expressed by smaller businesses which may not have a designated HR Manager to tackle the challenges. It is Semta’s job to “hide the wiring” from engineering, manufacturing and science employers to simplify the process for them.

Additionally, many businesses are concerned about retention and the risk that they will invest significant resource only for an individual to then leave the company on completion of their apprenticeship. In fact, the Labour Force Survey 2001-2004 said that apprentices are five times more likely to stay with a company than their peers. As jobs have become more difficult to find, it is likely that retention rates and loyalty have improved. Research from the National Apprenticeship Service says that 80% of employers who hire apprentices feel that they reduce staff turnover.

Employers should also bear in mind that apprenticeships are not only for new young recruits. They are also a key route to upskilling the existing workforce and a highly effective route for creating technicians who become increasingly important. As technological change accelerates, businesses aim for high value added products and services and jobs become more skilled.

The GE High Tech Manufacturing Index and Report 2011 reveals that nearly a third (31%) of high tech manufacturing firms had recruited people from outside the UK owing to a lack of suitably qualified people resident here. To compete on an international scale, businesses really must increase their investment in ‘home grown’ skills, which will increase employment, and help our economy strengthen.

How Semta is helping

Semta has teamed up with leading employers and the National Apprenticeship Service to launch the Apprentice Ambition – a 10 point plan designed to take the number of advanced and higher level apprenticeship registrations from 8,000 to 16,000 by 2016 by overcoming the barriers to up-take. The Ambition is specifically designed to make taking on an apprentice easier for all.

As part of the plan, we now offer the Semta Apprenticeship Service where – at no cost – we can manage the whole process – from advertising a role, assessing specific training needs, and filtering high calibre applicants to securing funding, working with a recognised training provider and ensuring the quality of the programme.

For many SMEs cost is a big barrier so we are delighted that the government is investing record levels of public funds in apprenticeships for all age groups, including the recent announcement of a £1,500 incentive for small businesses taking on their first apprentice.

Semta is working up proposals to help employers in our sectors take advantage of this new support. Funding pays for all the training of 16-18 year old apprentices and part of the training for older apprentices, while employers pay their salary. So it’s worth remembering that the National Minimum Wage for apprentices is £2.60 per hour. Many employers are happy to pay more as apprentices can make a valuable contribution to business even when they are training on the job.

In addition, Semta has recently secured £5 million from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills to increase the skills of the existing workforce and new bringing in talent through the recruitment of both graduates and apprentices. The focus of this work will be on supporting supply chain companies and SMEs.

The success of Engineering, Manufacturing and Science is of vital importance to the future economic success of the UK. Together these sectors generate £150 billion in Gross Value Added and represent just over 12% of the UK economy. More importantly, they account for over half of the total value of the UK’s exports. Engineering and technology skills are therefore essential to the UK’s economic prosperity.

Not only do those people who have gone through technical apprenticeship training truly understand the key business processes, they are introduced to the culture of a company’s workplace faster than their peers and many end up in key senior positions with the company they trained with.

To find out how your business could benefit from taking on an apprentice, how to start an apprenticeship programme with funding, or to highlight a barrier you company is experiencing in establishing an apprenticeship please contact Semta Customer Services: