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T Level Work Placements and Apprenticeships: Not Popular with SMES?

T Level Work Placements

How do you feel about taking on apprentices in your small business – or, in future, offering work placements to students studying for T levels?

If you’re keen, it seems you’re in the minority. Separate studies by the Department of Education and the FSB show neither option seems to appeal at present, and lack of SME funding and support seems to be to blame.


Apprenticeships on the Wane

Latest figures from the Department for Education show the number of people starting apprenticeships in England has fallen by a worrying 61%, following the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and changes to apprenticeship funding for small businesses. The number of under 19s starting apprenticeships has fallen by 41% from last year.

Mike Cherry, National Chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), believes changes in apprenticeship funding may be partly responsible for this fall.

“It’s early days in the Government’s apprenticeship programme, but these figures do coincide with an increase in the compulsory employer contribution and a greater focus on levy-paying businesses over smaller employers,” he said.

“This is a significant programme of reform which will take time to bed in, but there must be a real concerted effort to enable employers to take on apprentices. As the Government has highlighted, apprenticeships are crucial if we are to tackle the skills shortage and increase the social mobility of our young people.

“Small businesses have a key role in providing apprenticeships in across the whole of England and particularly for younger workers, with 70 per cent of those firms that have an apprentice taking on 16-19-year olds. Government should reconsider the current funding arrangements and incentives for taking on younger apprentices, recognising that this group needs more support as they move into the workplace for the first time.”


Will T Levels Be Given a Fair Trial?

Meanwhile, the FSB has done research of its own into SMEs’ views on the new T levels, the new technical education qualifications due to be rolled out in 2020. The plan is that T level courses will include a compulsory minimum 45-day work placement for every student.

However, no support has been earmarked directly for small businesses to provide these work placements as yet – and the FSB found that only 6% of small businesses in England would be willing to offer work placements under current plans for T-levels without any incentive. As small businesses account for 60% of all private sector employment in the UK, this is a concern.

But the current plan for T levels fails to explain how businesses will be incentivised and supported in offering these long tern placements.

“The Government’s plan fails to address the needs of small businesses who will be vital to the successful delivery of T-levels. If small firms don’t get the right support, this will fall at the first hurdle,” warns Mike Cherry.

“We absolutely recognise the value of the work experience placement and the integral role it plays in technical education routes for 16-18-year olds, but at the end of the day, this is a big ‘ask,’ particularly on small employers. Taking on a young person for a placement of this nature is a big responsibility, and over several months will mean the business will need to adapt to accommodate them.

You’ve got to remember small businesses are already doing their best to invest in apprentices, and there’s only so much extra time and resource you can give to support someone from outside of the business; particularly someone who is new to the workplace.

“For T-levels to work for both student and business, there needs to be clear incentive and guidance for small businesses to offer placements. It will not be sufficient for providers to create employer engagement strategies without businesses that are willing and prepared to host these students.”

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