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Alarm as Suffolk apprenticeships fall by 20%

PUBLISHED: 19:00 24 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:20 25 September 2018

Apprenticeships in Suffolk have dropped by 20%, according to county council data Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK PHOTO

Apprenticeships in Suffolk have dropped by 20%, according to county council data Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK PHOTO

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A 20% fall in the number of people starting an apprenticeship in Suffolk has sparked a “real cause of alarm” for business leaders.

Suffolk New College business development manager Nadia Cenci said work had been done to help clarify the apprenticeship levy Picture: GEORGIA GODDARDSuffolk New College business development manager Nadia Cenci said work had been done to help clarify the apprenticeship levy Picture: GEORGIA GODDARD

Figures published by Suffolk County Council’s scrutiny committee revealed that youth unemployment in the county had risen from 2.8% to 3.9%, while the number of people not in employment, education or training (NEETs) was at 4.1% – above the 3.1% national average.

The number of people starting apprenticeships in Suffolk were also down by 20% from April 2017 – 960 apprenticeships fewer.

Paul Simon, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce spokesman said the Apprenticeship Levy introduced last year had a damning effect.

He said: “Although part of a nationwide trend, the fall in apprenticeships in Suffolk by 20% is a real cause of alarm.

Suffolk county councillor Gordon Jones said Suffolk's apprenticehip figures had stacked up well against some areas of England Picture: JAMES FLETCHERSuffolk county councillor Gordon Jones said Suffolk's apprenticehip figures had stacked up well against some areas of England Picture: JAMES FLETCHER

“Something is going clearly wrong with the Apprenticeship Levy.

“Suffolk Chamber has argued for many months that the one-size fits all approach and lack of flexibility, including the blanket requirement for 20% off-the-job training, is unnecessary and unworkable.

“As a result, some larger Chamber member companies are treating the levy as a payroll tax because they are unable to make the complex and restrictive rules fit their training requirements.

“The levy has displaced budgets for other essential training requirements.

Jack Abbott, Labour group spokesman for education, raised concerns over the figures Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCILJack Abbott, Labour group spokesman for education, raised concerns over the figures Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

“On the other hand, poor government communications has meant that some SMEs have not realised that they can access levy funding in the first place.”

The Apprenticeship Levy introduced by central government in April 2017 aims to increase the number of quality opportunities available, with all firms that have a £3million or more employment bill required to pay a 0.5% levy to directly fund apprenticeships.

Popular apprenticeships

Nadia Cenci, Suffolk New College business development manager said a lot of work had gone on to help businesses understand the levy, but some industries were recruiting more apprentices than others.

“We have seen a rise in certain sectors,” she said.

“We’ve noticed more and more companies are looking at taking on apprentices in the fields of administration, business, childcare, construction and healthcare.

“Ultimately, taking on an apprentice is a great way of building your businesses.

“You get to give people a job and then watch them become an integral part of your company.

“You can help people grow and develop, and with support and a bit of luck, your business will grow and develop at the same time.”

What action is being taken?

In July, Suffolk Public Sector Leaders pledged £1million to tackle youth unemployment after the dedicated Mygo Centre in Ipswich closed in March.

Councillor Gordon Jones, Conservative cabinet member for education and skills, said the fall in apprenticeships was happening regionally and nationally.

“It is important that we ensure that young people in Suffolk are provided with the right support and opportunities to equip them for success in life and their careers,” he said.

“Recently, Suffolk Public Sector Leaders, including Suffolk County Council, jointly committed £1m over the next three years to tackle youth unemployment.

“This will be delivered through locality based projects across Suffolk that are targeted to the needs of each area, building on existing initiatives and working in partnership with the district and borough councils, local education providers and the voluntary and community sector.

“Following the success of the Apprenticeship Suffolk service delivered by the county council, a new local Apprenticeship Suffolk strategy is being developed that will support our residents and employers to understand and make the most of the new apprenticeship system.”

Lack of support

Jack Abbott, Labour group spokesman for education said it was contributing to a skills shortage in Suffolk.

“These figures are really concerning and underline the fact that many young people are not being given the right support to fulfil their potential,” he said.

“Apprenticeships offer a vital route into long-term, successful careers so this massive reduction in programme starts should ring alarm bells.

“Too often, high-skilled, high-paid jobs in sectors like construction, agriculture and renewable energy are going out of county because we are not preparing enough young people with the necessary and appropriate skills.

“I want to see young, talented people from Suffolk forming the backbone of our workforce but, in order to do that, we have to give them the proper training and opportunities to succeed.”

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