Apprenticeships - the good, the bad and the ugly

The government’s new drive to encourage apprenticeships, fronted by enterprise tsar Sir Alan Sugar, has received fierce criticism over the last couple of days – accompanied by some very worrying figures on how effective it’s actually been.

The £2.85m campaign was structured with the intention of creating 400,000 apprenticeships by 2020. But the Telegraph wrote yesterday it had managed to fill only 1,185 of the 18,000 places advertised on its website. The Mail had gone even further last Tuesday, asserting that in fact a mere 616 apprentices had been recruited through the scheme – making each one come in at a cost of £4,677.

Meanwhile, Charlie Mullins, the founder of the UK’s largest independent plumbing company Pimlico Plumbers, spoke out against the scheme over the weekend. The Times reported yesterday that Mullins, who sad ‘never been out of work’ since getting an apprenticeship aged 15 and who employs 10 apprentices at his business,  said the money had been ‘wasted’ on the scheme. He called the website nothing more than a platform for jobs.

Mullins also heavily criticised Alan Sugar’s involvement. “I’ve met him a couple of times and he doesn’t know the first thing about apprenticeships. He hasn’t done one himself. The television show, despite its name, bears no resemblance to apprentices — they’re paid £100,000 a year. He hasn’t got a clue.”

Sugar responded by saying he had received 5,000 enquiries about Apprenticeships.

The scheme has also attracted criticism from the shadow business secretary David Willets – though it is perhaps less surprising that the opposition would speak out against a government initiative. Willets spoke of ‘celebrity gimmicks’ and urged the government to fund the apprenticeships and help small businesses run the schemes.

According to the Mail, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the apprenticeships site was ‘successfully attracting employers and potential apprentices’.

But are Apprenticeships as bad as all this makes out? The government site says the completion rate for placements is now 63%, compared to less than 40% before the scheme was relaunched.

And employers are able to draw funding for providing a place as soon as training begins – receiving 25% of it once an apprenticeship has been completed.

They also give employers a chance to up the skill-sets of their workforce, increase productivity and bring a fresh pair of hands into the business.

So what do you think of the scheme and the criticism levied at it? Have you offered an apprenticeship or are you interested in doing so? Is the government just experiencing teething troubles with an otherwise useful initiative? We’d love to hear your comments below to find out more about how small businesses are finding the scheme.

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