You're tired! Apprenticeship funding needs an overhaul, urges Paul Driscoll.

Author:Driscoll, Paul

In July I approached Business Link for help to fund a trainee for a client of mine, a manufacturer based in Worcester. The UK's newly elected coalition government had reportedly invested [pounds sterling] 150m to pay for a further 50,000 apprentices (in addition to the existing 200,000) and there seemed to be a consensus that the country's manufacturing base needed more investment. I assumed, therefore, that support would be available for a metal-bashing business employing fewer than ten people.


This was not the case. The trainee was a postgraduate in his early twenties, which ruled him out of "mainstream funding"--whatever that is. And he wasn't classed as "long-term unemployed", which disqualified him from another type of support. There might have been some obscure scheme somewhere that the company could have sought out, but that's not the point. The firm needed a particular skill and was willing to train someone to learn it. This would have included paying for that individual's college fees and books and employing him on the days he was not attending college. It seemed a reasonable proposition and it deserved support in a straightforward way.

I left full-time education in the late seventies when apprenticeships were common. I was fortunate to be taken on by Automotive Products, then a big employer in Leamington Spa. Like many large companies, it had a training department and provided technical, craft and commercial apprenticeships for dozens of young people every year. For four years I was sent to college to learn the theoretical side of my trade and provided with paid employment where I could apply what I had been taught. The employer gained relatively inexpensive labour while I obtained practical experience.

I think I got the better deal since, although I was relatively inexpensive, my value to the firm was initially limited. I learned many of the basics of my trade at that time and the experience gave me a solid foundation on which to build my career.

In the eighties and nineties competition increased as recession bit hard. Employers slashed training budgets in order to stay competitive, since it is far cheaper to take on staff trained by someone else than it is to invest in training yourself. They could even afford to pay staff more to attract the best performers and still compete with firms that developed their people's skills in-house.

I went on to establish and run several businesses, employing up to 300...

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