The economic crisis has hit micro businesses hardest in terms of apprentice recruitment, with over half saying the situation has limited or prevented them from taking anyone on.

The time needed to achieve results and the cost of training and managing an apprentice are also listed among the top concerns of 43 per cent of industry employers with one to 10 employees.

However, the number one concern was the economy, with 51 per cent saying it was a limiting factor, compared with between 14 and 25 per cent of small, medium, large and macro organisations.

The findings come from an independent survey of 500 managing directors and those responsible for HR and training in engineering and manufacturing, building services, construction, logistics, and energy and utilities. It was carried out on behalf of EAL, the specialist awarding organisation for industry qualifications.

Ann Watson, Managing Director of EAL, said: “It is worrying that over half of micro employers are limiting or not recruiting apprentices because of the economic situation. They make up around 90 per cent of all businesses in England and Wales* - a huge market for Apprenticeship programmes and vitally important in helping to reduce spiralling unemployment figures.

“Government initiatives, such as £1,500 payment incentives for businesses of up to 50 employees, go some way towards encouraging the wider use of Apprenticeship programmes. But, despite these pledges, clearly more needs to be done to support micro businesses, to ensure they are aware of the help available and encourage them to take apprentices. The benefits of having an apprentice must also be made clear, as they are important for future progression, can bridge skills gaps, and bring new energy and enthusiasm to a company.”

Common among businesses of all sizes was that Apprenticeships are “nice to have” but unaffordable, with over 45 per cent of micro employers, 29 per cent of small, 37 per cent of medium, 32 per cent of large and 19 per cent of macro all agreeing.

Bob Millington, Director of National Liaison and Regional Coordination for the National Forum of Engineering Centres (NFEC), a membership organisation of over 100 engineering education providers, believes a new learning pathway is required to boost micro business participation in Apprenticeship programmes.

He said: “The fact that micro businesses have been hit hardest in terms of Apprenticeship provision doesn’t surprise me in the least. It’s very difficult for micro businesses to take on an apprentice because a) they are a large investment, relative to the size of the company and b) it is an additional workload for a company that only has say 10 employees or so. Micro businesses could be helped and possibly persuaded to take on an apprentice if the person they were employing had already been prepared to a certain level.

“I’m working with our national network to see if we can raise the profile of a pre-Apprenticeship programme, which would bring people up to an NVQ Level 2.  This would develop their abilities and confidence, not just in terms of technically related competence and knowledge, but also in areas around work ethic and attitude. It would mean that, whatever area of employment they progress to, they will be much more employable and not entering micro businesses completely unprepared. This reduces the risk of taking on an apprentice significantly for small and micro businesses.”

He added: “There are many colleges doing something similar to this already but we need to make it more widely available.”

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