Sean Haley, Chair of Sodexo UK & Ireland, responds to the UK spring budget statement and the development of apprenticeship standards.
At Sodexo we are so pleased that the Chancellor took time in what was a critical and highly-anticipated spring statement to talk about apprenticeships and the apprenticeship levy.
The themes he picked up on are all areas we have previously identified as opportunities for change.
As an employer of currently circa 1,000 apprentices, we would welcome the opportunity to accelerate the skills element of the apprenticeship standards to bring faster proficiency in our learners’ on the job activities. This would be particularly valuable for the small businesses and not for profits to which we gift in excess of £300,000 of apprenticeship levy each year, to drive increased productivity. The way employers are allowed to pay training providers is rigid and means that training cannot be flexed to best suit the needs of the learner and the organisation.
A good example is the training an apprenticeship chef will receive. On average, they will be on an 18-month programme during which they will receive monthly skills training on different core skills such as bakery, butchery and fish preparation. Alongside this, they will receive mentoring and on-the-job training as they move through the course. Given the skills shortage in that sector at present, it would be far better for the levy to be redistributed to allow intensive delivery of the skills training elements upfront and then spend the remainder of the course embedding their knowledge, skills and behaviour (KSB). The current system just does not allow for that. But it should, so we would welcome the Government addressing this.
We would also like to see the Government enable organisations employing apprentices – particularly smaller businesses and not for profits – to use a set proportion of the levy to not just pay for skills development but also to cover the cost of the tools of the trade those apprentices need. Without these, their ability to achieve the high-quality learning provision we all want them to have is impaired. I am aware of the ongoing debates around this approach and the concerns about the degree to which the system could be open to abuse, however this is something that was made possible for Kick-starters so we do feel it should be available to apprentices.
Lastly, we like so many other businesses welcomed the extended incentivisation to include all new start apprentice hires – introduced during the pandemic. We would encourage the government to extend this incentivisation along with more guidance to ensure this payment is only used to better the apprenticeship offer, promote hire of new start apprentices and drive quality.
The comparatively low spend by companies in the United Kingdom on training employees, identified in this spring statement, is concerning. The Levelling Up challenge should be a priority for us all and training is one of the ways we can really begin to address inequalities in communities across the country. Plus, we have huge looming skills gaps which apprentices and the levy could play a significant role in closing. It is incumbent on us all to address this now and support smaller businesses and not for profits to help them address it too.”