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Shropshire Star comment: Reform needed over apprenticeships

By Shropshire Star | Opinions | Published:

There is little doubt that when run properly, apprenticeships can provide a wonderful route into the world of work.

In many industries they play a key role in helping to close the productivity and skills gap, as well as enabling firms to retain talent at a local level.

But despite years of tinkering with the current system in a bid to make it work for employers and workers, there remains one huge dark cloud hanging over apprenticeships that simply must be addressed.

The apprenticeship levy, which requires all employers with annual wages of more than £3 million to pay 0.5 per cent of their bill to the Treasury, has proved to be a major stumbling block since it was brought in back in 2017.

It was supposed to ensure around three million apprenticeships were created by this year, boosting the country’s productivity in the process. Yet it has failed miserably, with fewer than one million new apprenticeships launched over the period and the number of new starters actually falling in recent years.

Far from encouraging new firms to take on apprentices, the system has confused and annoyed in equal measure.

Many have viewed it as more of a deterrent, prompting employers to walk away from the scheme in their droves.

It is a damning indictment of how the system is currently being run that just a tiny fraction of firms in the UK currently take on apprentices. With a new government in place, it is undoubtedly a time for the levy to be reformed.

For a start, there needs to be a reduction in the amount of needless bureaucracy around training programmes.

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Employers must be trusted to offer the right levels of training without the need for constant probes into how the cash is being spent. On top of that, the millions of pounds going back into the Treasury must be invested in apprenticeships.

There also needs to be a huge boost in funding to help non-levy paying small and medium-sized businesses to provide apprenticeships. At the moment, the entire system represents a huge missed opportunity.

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The wild weather conditions of recent days serve as a stark reminder of just how powerless we are.

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With Storm Ciara battering giving way to snow, the country was left reeling having suffered record levels of disruption.

Across our region trees were blown over and roads have been closed. Trains were cancelled due the risks posed by high winds and flooding. Numerous events have been cancelled as the safety of the public is rightly prioritised.

Rarely have we seen a storm of such magnitude that it causes everyday life to grind to a halt.

But as is often the case when the weather turns foul, in some respects it has brought the best out in people.

In recent days we have seen instances where people have got together to help clear roads and make the highways safer for motorists.

Others have joined forces to help elderly people in their communities, while there have been several reported cases of Good Samaritans assisting people who became stranded.

With blizzard conditions forecast over the coming days, such fantastic community spirit could prove vital.

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