Apprenticeship levy welcomed but “imperative” to prioritise quality, engineering sector warns

Key figures from the UK engineering sector have welcomed the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, but warn the government not to lose focus on developing high-value skills in order to meet arbitrary targets.

The apprenticeship levy, which comes into force tomorrow, applies to all employers in England with an annual pay bill above £3 million. The levy will be set at 0.5 per cent of the annual pay bill. Employers may use these funds to pay for apprenticeship training, along with a 10 per cent top up from the government.

The levy is a pillar of the government’s commitment to fund three million new apprenticeships by 2020 and is intended to force employers to take vocational training seriously. An apprenticeships watchdog for standards and assessments, the Institute for Apprenticeships, forms another key part of the policy.

Dr Rhys Morgan, director of engineering and education at the Royal Academy of Engineering, said that the academy welcomed the levy as a “unique opportunity to improve society mobility for thousands of young people.”

“However, it is imperative that the government prioritises sectors such as engineering rather than low-quality, short duration apprenticeships that do not support the productivity agenda only to meet an arbitrary target.”

Morgan suggests that unspent money from the levy could be used to support the UK manufacturing and engineering sectors by prioritising apprenticeships in the engineering sector and updating college and university training facilities.

John Perkins, chair of the IET’s Education and Skills Panel, welcomed the levy as an opportunity for employers to close the skills gap in the sector.

“We would like to see employers in the engineering, science and technology sectors seize the opportunity to lead the way in providing a platform for people to develop their skills on the job and invest in the appropriate training, thereby improving their competitiveness.

“In the future, we would also like to see the levy being extended to accommodate employers offering much-needed work experience.”

Perkins also warned that smaller organisations exempt from the levy may risk being left behind.

“There remains a need to work with these smaller employers, who make up the majority of UK business, to ensure they understand the benefits of the levy in helping to create apprenticeship-led pathways into work and invest in on-the-job training.”

These concerns echo the findings of a Parliamentary report presented last week. The report (compiled by a sub-committee of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Skills Committee and the Education Committee) expressed concern that policy to promote apprenticeships was unfocused and may fail to fill the widening skills gap. Apprenticeships should be focused on sectors – such as engineering – and regions most in need of training, the report concluded.

“Ministers must recognise that apprenticeships are a means to an end and not an end in themselves,” warned Neil Carmichael MP, Chair of the Education Committee.

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