SMEs failing to offer apprenticeships in the North East

More than half of the region’s small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) aren’t able to offer an apprenticeship, a report says.

North East Chamber of Commerce chief executive James Ramsbotham learns what it takes to be an apprentice in the offshore industry
North East Chamber of Commerce chief executive James Ramsbotham learns what it takes to be an apprentice in the offshore industry

Small and medium-sized businesses in the North East say they can’t take on apprentices because of red tape.

More than half of the regions SMEs said they aren’t able to offer opportunities to young people, with one in 10 blaming administrative red tape and the costs involved with setting apprenticeships up.

According to research from Barclays, 64% of SMEs in the North East say they won’t be offering an apprenticeship from within.

But more than 80% say they would like to take on a young, work-ready candidate.

Chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) James Ramsbotham says not enough is being done by SMEs in the region to address a growing skills gap.

He said: “We have supported the Journal’s Proud to Back Apprenticeships campaign because this issue is something that we must address throughout the business community and while we have a plethora of large companies dedicated to apprenticeships and employee development, not enough is being done by SMEs in regional supply chains to address potential skills shortages.

“Red tape is a convenient excuse for a business not engaged in the apprenticeship agenda, but really there is little more red tape involved in taking on an apprentice than there is in any recruitment process.

“As the region’s largest independent training provider, NECC does all it can to take the red tape and stress out of recruiting an apprenticeship.

“I would urge all firms to consider apprenticeships. It is not only good for your business, it is also good for regional business.”

Across the country, one in eight young people, aged between 14 and 15, want an apprenticeship which could generate £1.5bn for UK economy.

But, currently two thirds of SMEs, which account for 99% of all businesses in the UK and employ 24.3 million people, say they can’t offer apprenticeships.

Kirstie Mackey, head of LifeSkills at Barclays, said: “SMEs are the UK’s life blood when it comes to offering employment, but this research shows that they still perceive barriers to be able to offer on the job training or to help young people be work-ready.

“Not only does it create a skills gap that holds back a generation from realising their potential but also means a potential productivity gain of over £1.5bn to the UK economy goes untapped.

“Businesses in the North East need support to connect with education providers and young people to offer the quality pre-employment learning opportunities that are so desperately needed.”

Case study: MCPS

A North East SME that works in the offshore oil and gas industry has defied the national trend by hiring eight apprentices, with four more to follow.

South Shields-based MCPS has worked with NECC to sign up the apprentices on a rolling programme over the next few years.

The company has more than 10 years manufacturing and design experience in making protection and prevention systems for the marine, offshore oil and gas, and offshore wind industries.

HR manager, John Clafton, said: “The current apprentices are all of an extremely high calibre and are progressing well - their mentoring through the NECC is of a high quality.”

The company currently has eight apprentices working at the plant and is recruiting another four through the NECC for various engineering and office based roles.

A survey for the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) found that 92% of companies said that an apprenticeship programme provided them with better motivated staff and increased job satisfaction and 74% of employers said apprentices tended to be more loyal, remaining at the company longer than non-apprentices.

Over 8,500 skilled people across the North East are due to retire from the sector before 2016. This means considerable danger is being posed to industry, with many companies reaching full capacity in their ability to recruit and deliver.

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