Clare Hughes: Get in, go far with an apprenticeship

March 6 to 10 is National Apprenticeship Week, an event co-ordinated by the National Apprenticeship Service which is now in its tenth year.

The week is designed to celebrate the positive impact apprenticeships have on individuals, businesses and the economy, and to raise awareness of the apprenticeship route to everyone.

Did you know that last year 6,840 people living in Lincolnshire started an apprenticeship? And did you know that there is no upper age limit to becoming an apprentice? Anyone who wishes to apply for an apprenticeship job can do so, regardless of their age.

So what is an apprenticeship?

In simple terms it’s a job with a wage that combines practical on-the-job training with structured learning towards a nationally approved qualification.

The employer provides practical training to the apprentice as they work. The training provider or college makes sure that the learning on and off the job meets national standards and provides any off-the-job training required and the apprentice gains valuable skills and experience, earning while learning.

Once qualified the apprentice is likely to be kept on by the employer. National research shows that two out of three small businesses keep their apprentice on after they qualify because they have developed the right kind of skills.

Employers can recruit an apprentice in over 1,500 different job roles, covering more than 170 industries, from construction and engineering or accounting and business management to catering and healthcare.

They can select the apprentice just like they would any other member of staff, with a few extra steps to make sure that the right training is in place – something that the National Apprenticeship Service can help with.

That means the would-be-apprentice will attend an interview, just like they would for any job and the college or training provider may even help you do the recruitment.

Apprenticeships take one to four years to complete, depending on their level of difficulty, and the job vacancy you have as an employer will determine whether you need someone who already has some experience, someone completely new to your sector, or someone to train to a higher level.

Some employers are taking on apprentices at Level 4 and higher, which is equivalent to the difficulty of a degree.

Nationally, 76% of employers say that productivity has improved since taking on an apprentice, and as a result the government has brought in some new rules for how the training of apprenticeships is funded.

From April 6, employers with an annual wage bill of more than £3 million will have to pay an Apprenticeship Levy each month charged at 0.5% of their annual wage bill.

This includes public sector organisations. If these employers recruit apprentices, they will be able to use the levy they have paid to fund the apprenticeship training. They will still be required to pay a wage to their apprentices.

All other businesses (ie, non-levy payers) will receive support from government for the training of apprentices.

If the employers have fewer than 50 employees the training part of the apprenticeship will be fully funded, and for those with more than 50 employees who are not paying the levy, 90% of the cost of training will be funded by government.

There are also additional financial incentives for businesses that recruit an apprentice who is aged 16 to 18.

For more information about the new funding arrangements, paying the levy, becoming an apprentice or how to recruit an apprentice visit the government website.

Alternatively come along to the Greater Lincolnshire LEP’s Big Debate on apprenticeships taking place at the EPIC Centre, Lincolnshire Showground on Friday, March 24 from 9am to 11.30am.