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Lift red tape barriers to apprenticeships, says business group

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A leading business group has called on the Government to make it easier for smaller firms to invest in apprenticeship training.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) pointed out that two-thirds of apprenticeships (69 per cent) are offered by employers with fewer than 50 workers.

But the FSB also argued that a significant proportion of smaller firms face serious obstacles to running apprenticeship courses.

The business group identified five areas where Government action could help to boost the number of apprenticeship places available in the small employer sector.

Micro-businesses should be offered specific funding incentives to take on apprentices.

Small businesses should be exempt from the ‘Time to Train legislation, due to come into force in April 2011.

There should be better promotion of the Apprenticeship Training Agencies, which help small businesses overcome the bureaucracy and red tape involved in setting up an apprenticeship course.

Small firms should be able to access apprentices through the supply chain if the business is trying to access a public sector contract.

And there should be a wider recognition that Group Training Associations can provide an effective route for small employers to train apprentices.

John Walker, the FSB’s national chairman, said: “Apprenticeships are valued very highly by small businesses, but Government must recognise that it is the burden of employment law combined with a lack of information and guidance that stops small firms from taking an apprentice on. 

“With recent unemployment figures showing that the total number of under-25s out of work reached 951,000 in the three months to November, it is time for action. We recognise that at a time of austerity not all businesses can receive financial incentives to take on an apprentice and that is why we are urging the Government to ensure that the smallest, micro-businesses still receive funding. 

“We also want to see the Time to Train legislation – due to come into force from April this year – scrapped for the smallest firms, as it just adds to the already burdensome employment legislation that a company has to get to grips with.”

John McNamara, Chief Executive of the Alliance of Sector Skills councils, added: “All the research undertaken by the National Apprenticeship Service and the 23 Sector Skills Councils indicates that apprentices are a first class investment for a small business, in terms of profitability, improved customer service, and staff retention rates.

“We support the FSB’s call for extra help to enable small businesses to take on more apprentices, and in particular, see Group Training Associations as a highly effective way to provide support for small employers.”