Apprentices ‘gap’ has to close

Joining forces: From left, Sheffield Central Labour MP Paul Blomfield, past Master Cutler Doug Liversidge and Gordon Millward, from the Federation of Small Businesses.                                       Picture Stuart Hastings
Joining forces: From left, Sheffield Central Labour MP Paul Blomfield, past Master Cutler Doug Liversidge and Gordon Millward, from the Federation of Small Businesses. Picture Stuart Hastings
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Business and education in Sheffield are being urged to join forces to close an apprentice training gap that is putting the city at a disadvantage to others in the UK.

The call comes from Sheffield Central Labour MP Paul Blomfield, who says Sheffield is lagging behind other places when it comes to the number of apprentices being trained in the city.

Mr Blomfield was speaking after hosting a round table discussion in the Cutlers’ Hall which brought together local business leaders, educationalists, politicians and the National Apprenticeships Service.

He believes that, despite disagreements over the standards set for some apprentice training and how well they meet the needs of business, there is strong, across the board support for boosting apprenticeships in the region.

Mr Blomfield says one way forward could be to set up a Sheffield-based Apprenticeship Training Agency, which would make it simpler for employers to recruit apprentices, secure government support and ensure training was flexible enough to meet their needs as well as the needs of their apprentices.

“I was struck by comments that Sheffield is behind the game on apprenticeship numbers and that’s something that ought to worry us all. An Apprenticeship Training Agency could be a game changer,” said Mr Blomfield.

“I think we are beginning to see a framework which would address the concerns small and medium sized enterprises have got, provide them with easy access to the big pool of potential apprentices and also make it easier for apprentices to get a range of development opportunities that might not be available in in SME.”

Mr Blomfield says there are a number of different models for running Apprenticeship Training Agencies and that the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership might play an important role in launching one of the agencies locally.

Apprenticeship Training Agencies are designed to support employers who wish to take on an apprentice but are unable to in the current economic climate.

They can help employers whose order books do not currently allow them to commit to employing someone throughout the whole of an apprenticeship, but know that they will need fully trained employees when the economy picks up.

The Agency, rather than the company, acts as the apprentice employer and who places them with a host employer, which pays the Agency a fee for the apprentice’s services; nade up of the wage agreed with the host company and the Agency’s management fee.

Agencies offer other benefits for the employer, including support with recruitment and taking responsibility for the apprentice’s wages, tax, and National Insurance contributions.

The round table discussion took place during a drop-in session at which small and medium sized firms had their questions about apprenticeships answered by experts from the National Apprenticeship Service.