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Can small businesses really afford to ignore apprenticeships?

By Keith Smith, Apprenticeships Director, Education and Skills Funding Agency

This year is shaping up to be a truly exciting year for apprenticeships. 

It’s been a great start, with the launch of the new apprenticeship ‘Fire It Up’ campaign – which focuses on changing the ‘not-for-me’ mindset towards apprenticeships and is making a significant splash across TV, billboards, digital and social channels. 

Thousands of small businesses already offer world-class apprenticeship programmes.

However, as the backbone of the economy, more need to come on board. Our aim is to make all small business employers aware of the changes to apprenticeship and the benefits to their business. 


An impressive 96 percent of employers with apprentices say they have experienced at least one benefit from taking on apprentices, and most can count at least eight benefits. 

Here are just three, applicable to every small business:

More value for money

The bottom line is paramount and that’s why we have made it even more affordable for small businesses to take on apprentices. For employers that do not pay the apprenticeship levy, currently, 90 percent of training costs for apprentices are government funded. 

For those who do pay the levy, it’s easy to open an account on the apprenticeship service to access your funds and pay directly for apprenticeship training. 

There are also savings for apprentice employers from lower recruitment costs and lower salaries. 

Meet your workforce objectives

In every workplace, there is at least one workforce challenge that needs addressing. For many STEM and construction firms, skills shortage is an issue. For the hospitality sector, it is staff retention and absurd recruitment costs. For consultancy firms, it is the sheer lack of diversity amongst their staff. And for those in transport and logistics, an ageing workforce is taking its toll on their business. 

Apprenticeships are a tried and tested approach to tackling these and other workforce issues – as we know from working with employers across the country. Over two-thirds of employers had seen improved staff retention (69 percent) and three-quarters report improved productivity (78 percent) and staff morale (73 percent).



Sharpen your values

Customers, clients and employees are asking more of businesses. People want to be associated with businesses that have a greater purpose, beyond profit making. 

Having apprentices in your business is a great way to boost your company image, allowing you to standout from your competitors. 

Today, there are hundreds of apprenticeships across a range of sectors, from construction to cyber security. The move to employer-designed apprenticeship has allowed employers to develop apprenticeships that meets their needs. The quality has increased too, and the introduction of higher and degree apprenticeships has broadened the cohort of people completing apprenticeships.

I would urge every small business to leave behind any preconceptions – and take a fresh look at apprenticeships. Speak to apprentice employers or training providers in your area and hear their experience first-hand. With EU Exit coming and the continuous impact of technology, businesses looking to retain their position and grow must seriously consider apprenticeships.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of FSB.