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Once in a generation opportunity for businesses to help tackle inequality 

In every region of the country, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to take up an apprenticeship than their wealthier counterparts. This means they are missing out on an opportunity to develop themselves and make a positive contribution by getting a good job and a rewarding career.

The apprenticeship levy, requiring UK employers with a pay bill over £3 million to make an investment in apprenticeships, provides a once in a generation opportunity to change how vocational education and training is designed and delivered. Ministers are hoping that the apprenticeship levy will address the lack of opportunities to young people by creating 3 million more apprenticeships by 2020.

Our report with Teach First has found that many young people find it difficult to access information on apprenticeships. Teachers are ill-equipped to provide support, and schools do not have the time to build meaningful partnerships with local businesses. These factors have led to a lack of awareness of the benefits that an apprenticeship can bring. Equally, young people can be put off by the headline figure of the apprenticeship minimum wage of £3.30 an hour.

The introduction of the levy can help tackle these challenges - but its success will depend on positive engagement from businesses. The levy must not be seen as a tax, but rather as a genuine opportunity for change that will bring real benefits. It will allow businesses to nurture an eager, skilled and motivated workforce. It can also support increased retention; National Apprenticeship Service data shows 80% of companies who invest in apprentices have reported a significant increase in employee retention. Given the challenge facing many companies of securing the talent they need, this is a critical issue for the bottom line.

Another important challenge for Government is to create more effective conditions for businesses to build stronger relationships with their local schools. These relationships can help businesses build their profile amongst young people, and encourage the very best talent to work for them and provide young people with an insight into the benefits that apprenticeships offer.  Equally, bringing businesses closer to schools, means teachers will have more information and be better equipped to support students who wish to pursue apprenticeships.

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The Progression Report: Empowering school-leavers to make informed choices


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As recommended in our report, one of the key ways the government can further strengthen the ties between businesses and schools is to develop a nationwide UCAS-style ‘one stop shop’ for young people. The current process has been identified as a major barrier for potential applicants. This will simplify the process and open up more opportunities for young people while enabling teachers to provide better support.

The levy can also help engage businesses to shape the skills supply in their local area. With a greater vested interest, businesses can work closely as members of Local Enterprise Partnerships to set a skills strategy that meets the needs of businesses in the local area. With greater employer involvement, it will be possible to create a local work force that meets the needs of industry, helps to address skills shortages and drive economic growth.

While it is encouraging that the Government has committed to providing a significant contribution to the levy, especially for smaller businesses, it will be important that this money is used effectively. So in addition to training costs, these funds must be used to create stronger local support networks for apprentices. Young people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds are particularly vulnerable when moving from education to employment and small businesses do not have the capacity to provide the same level of support as colleges or universities. This can lead to a high drop-out rate for apprentices in these smaller companies. Local support networks can address this by creating a sense of community that can stop young people feeling isolated when they face challenges in the workplace. 

The ambitious growth plans for apprenticeships will clearly enhance opportunities for young people and make a difference in tackling inequality, but businesses, providers and the government all need to work together to make the levy a success.

Find out more about the author of this article, Chris Green 

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