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Public enthusiasm for apprenticeships 'high' in East Anglia, but some employers less keen, report shows

PUBLISHED: 12:06 06 March 2019

Jake Docwra, who is working as an apprentice at the Stowen Group in Lowestoft  Picture: STOWEN GROUP

Jake Docwra, who is working as an apprentice at the Stowen Group in Lowestoft Picture: STOWEN GROUP

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National Apprenticeship Week is highlighting the benefits of training on the job versus university, but figures suggest many employers aren't getting on board.

A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) suggests that the Department for Education (DfE) has some way to go to demonstrate the government’s apprenticeship scheme is achieving value for money.

But there are a number of successful apprenticeship schemes in the East Anglian region – and a survey by Bury St Edmunds brewer Greene King poll suggests that many people aren’t enamoured by the benefits of higher education, believing it to be costly, and not necessarily useful for future career prospects.

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In 2017, the DfE implemented several changes to its apprenticeships programme to shift the focus towards meeting employers’ needs, improve apprenticeship quality, and make the programme more employer-funded, including a levy scheme whereby larger employers pay 0.5% of their annual pay bill, which they can reclaim along with a 10% government top-up.

But the Audit Office, in a report published on March 6, 2019, said since funding reforms were introduced, apprenticeship starts had fallen substantially following a spike in starts in April 2017. The number of starts in 2017/18 was 375,800, 26% lower than the 509,400 starts in 2015/16.

In 2017-18, levy-paying employers used 9% of the funds available to them to support new apprenticeships, equating to £170m of nearly £2.2bn available.

At the same time, Greene King’s survey shows that while 61% of East Anglians see apprenticeships as the most useful start to their career and 83% an attractive alternative to university, nearly two thirds (65%) believe there aren’t enough apprenticeship schemes around.

Many think they should be made more accessible to those from lower income households, the Greene King poll found.

Among employers which have embraced apprenticeships, there is enthusiasm for what they can achieve.

Colchester-based Care UK has around 650 employees on an apprenticeship programme all over the country, and in a sector which is chronically short of recruits.

Head of learning and development Suzanne Ratcliffe said their apprentices varied enormously in terms of age and background and the areas in which they are training, but all received at least the National Living Wage.

“With over 15 care homes in Suffolk and Essex, Care UK will have plenty of opportunities for good candidates to build a long term and rewarding career with us. Many of our senior directors and managers have worked their way up the career ladder in social care so they are committed to helping people follow in their footsteps,” she added.

Helen Rudd, managing director at Felixstowe based PR firm Prominent, said: “Of course, for some sectors having a university degree is a prerequisite. But university isn’t for everyone.

“As a business owner, I can tell you that someone who has worked in a job for two years and has picked up real skills is much more employable than someone with an unrelated degree.”

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