Government needs to do more to help apprentices, say business leaders

The Government has scrapped loans scheme for older apprentices sparking calls from North East business leaders for them to do more to help

Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire Business Secretary Vince Cable
Business Secretary Vince Cable

The region’s business leaders say more needs to be done to stimulate interest in apprenticeships after the Government scrapped a loans scheme for older apprentices.

The scheme to fund high-level apprenticeships - equivalent to A-levels - has been axed by the Coalition after it attracted just 404 applications despite government hopes of attracting 25,000 people.

Business secretary Vince Cable admitted at the launch of the London Professional Apprenticeship this week that the scheme for people aged 24 or over had flopped.

He said: “The advanced learning loans system has taken off for non-apprenticeships, but for apprenticeships we accept it has not succeeded and we’re dropping it. Regulations have to be put through parliament to conclude it (apprenticeship loans system), but we’ve accepted it didn’t work and there’s no shame in that.”

However, the North East Chamber of Commerce last night said the government needs to address the growing skills gap still facing the region. Head of member relations Jonathan Walker, said: “The numbers clearly show the loans system for adult apprenticeships hasn’t lived up to the government’s expectations, which is disappointing when there is a clear appetite among many North East firms to take on apprentices. The government should act swiftly to develop new proposals that address uncertainty for learners and businesses alike and do more to stimulate interest in apprenticeships.”

Experts in the further education field have been warning the government that loans were a barrier to adults seeking to enhance their career prospects with advanced or higher apprenticeships.

David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said: “We have been calling this a failed policy for some time and would like to congratulate the government for recognising this and accepting that they need to act, and to act swiftly.

“We are anxious to see the detail of the new proposals. Whatever is proposed, we are sure that the government, employers, learning providers and learners and their representatives will need to work together to understand the full implications of this policy and how best to take it forward.”

The University and College Union (UCU), which opposed the measure, said the government now had to provide proper support for people who wanted to return to study and cancel the loans of people who had applied.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “Forcing older people to take out huge loans to retrain was always going to be a barrier and the only saving grace is that even the government seems to have, belatedly, recognised this. Student loans, student numbers and funding for students are all in a mess. The government should take a leaf out of Vince Cable’s book and go back to the drawing board now to ensure the public does not have to pick up the tab for any more failed experiments.”

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