Apprenticeships Week is an important point in the calendar to recognise the value and contribution of apprentices to businesses, and the benefits to them of learning and working as an apprentice.
I’m proud that my business – B2B IT Services, based in Cardiff and Cwmbran – has worked with apprentices and been able to bring them into our team. We’ve been able to offer a practical, integrated approach to learning and development whilst deepening the knowledge and expertise within our team. Many of our former apprentices have gone on to occupy other roles within our team and have become an integral part of the business. Apprentices have contributed so much to our business, helping us to grow and deepen the skills base in our organisation.
However, at such a difficult time for our economy the future of apprenticeships in Wales is far from certain. We know that businesses – faced with an uncertain economic outlook and the impact of repeated rounds of restrictions – are more likely to be trying to consolidate and protect what they have, than to look to recruit.
I understand why businesses would seek to do this at such a difficult time. My business has – like everyone – been forced to adapt rapidly in the face of the pandemic and reassess what we had originally thought 2020 would look like. Some of this has been difficult, whilst in other ways we have been able to think outside the box to the benefit of our team and our firm. Many business owners that I speak to have not been so lucky, and have had to make incredibly difficult choices in their efforts to sustain jobs and keep businesses afloat.
If Welsh Government cannot find a way to support firms and open up more opportunities to them, this will have long-term impacts on the employment prospects of thousands of younger people, not to mention the overall health of Wales’ vital network of SMEs.
Welsh Government should extend the apprenticeship support for SMEs that was introduced by Welsh Government in response to the pandemic, and which is due to come to an end shortly. Now is not the time to remove support for SMEs to recruit apprentices. At FSB, we want to see this support continued until the Senedd elections, at which point a new system should be created to provide routes into apprenticeships for employers and individuals.
I have seen first-hand how apprenticeships deliver for SMEs, but how the scheme as a whole is not perfect. That’s why any new scheme should learn from what we’ve had in the past (such as Jobs Growth Wales and the Young Recruits Programme) and develop a new system that helps SMEs with the recruitment process as well as covering the financial risk of employing additional apprentices.
Furthermore, apprenticeships should be a central part of the conversation about Wales’ future and reflective of the broader economic development strategy in Wales. For example, by supporting skills in areas of growth such as decarbonisation.
Being able to hire apprentices has helped my business to grow, to thrive and to become more sustainable with it. its also been a point of pride for my colleagues and I that we have been able to work with apprentices and help them develop into a central part of our team. It is my hope that Welsh Government will work with firms like mine to put apprenticeships in Wales on a sustainable footing so that they can continue to benefit the apprentices and employers of the future.