The 2011/11/23 at 06:34
Stéphanie Salti, in London
The beefing up of British apprenticeship has become one of the hobbyhorses of the coalition government led by Prime Minister David Cameron. Already, the number of apprentices has risen by 50 % in the space of two years: 422,700 persons opted for apprenticeship in 2010-2011 compared with only 279,700 the previous year, according to official figures. In mid-November, the Business Secretary decided to give an extra nudge to this form of training by announcing a series of measures aimed at medium-sized companies to encourage them to hire more apprentices.
“When times are tough, it’s right that we provide additional support to help the smallest firms meet training costs,” declared Vince Cable on the occasion of the plan’s presentation. In concrete terms, the British government will be granting businesses with under 50 employees and without apprentices a 1,500-pound (1748-euro) bonus for the recruitment of a young person aged 16 to 24 years. This financial investment will be accompanied by lighter recruitment procedures and a simplification of security and health requirements, often cited by companies as too complex and dissuasive to the hiring of under-19-year-olds.
In total, this initiative is expected to support up to 20,000 new apprentices in 2012-2013, according to the government. A survey on the quality of apprenticeship programmes will also be carried out at the same time by a large company, and the results released next Spring. A dramatic hike in youth unemployment figures largely accounts for the government’s efforts: at the end of September, the number of young unemployed British people climbed to 1.02 million, and unemployment of 16-24-year-olds now stands at 21.9 %, a record since 1992.
Unsurprisingly, the government initiative has been hailed by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) that highlights the appropriateness of this programme for meeting the concerns often voiced by its members. In a survey carried out amongst over 7,000 persons, the BCC thus reports that only 15 % of companies surveyed intended to hire apprentices between April 2011 and April 2012. Time, cost and inexperience were the obstacles most mentioned. But on a more positive note, 82 % of companies that have already hired an apprentice indicated that this experience enabled the construction of long-term expertise within their companies.