Skills needs must now drive reforms for apprentices

Three quarters of businesses expect to increase the number of high-skilled roles over the coming years, but 61 per cent fear that there will be a lack of sufficiently skilled people to fill them, according to the 2017 CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey.

The survey of 344 companies highlighted that 62 per cent see strong competition for candidates with appropriate qualifications as the most widespread cause of skills shortage, followed by a lack of candidates with appropriate qualifications (55 per cent).

Asked about the impact of the introduction of the £2 billion apprenticeship levy, 58 per cent of firms plan to increase apprentice programmes – but it is not clear how much of this is genuinely new provision, with 63 per cent of respondents planning to reconfigure existing training to comply with the levy.

Careers advice and guidance given to young people was judged as overwhelmingly poor, with 84 per cent of companies surveyed saying the quality and consistency of careers advice is inadequate.  Businesses are actively engaging with schools to help support children and young people, with 81 per cent of those surveyed having links to schools.

New apprenticeships are being created but many are reconfigured, existing training programmes

Asked about the impact of the apprenticeship levy system in the months before it went live, many firms indicated they will use the levy to up-skill their current workforce and replace other existing training, with 63 per cent planning to reconfigure existing training into apprenticeships and 27 per cent expecting to cut back on non-apprenticeship training activity to meet levy costs.

Survey responses show that businesses are adapting their training approach to meet apprenticeship levy cost recovery rules, with two-thirds (63 per cent) planning to reconfigure their existing training into apprenticeships.

Over half (58 per cent) of respondents plan to create new apprenticeship programmes and close to half expect to increase apprenticeship places. Some of this provision will be existing training reconfigured or in place of other schemes being cut, as around a quarter of companies expect to cut back on non-apprentice training (27 per cent) or curb their graduate intake (23 per cent)

A third of businesses cited lack of clear guidance as the biggest challenge they face in the first year of the levy’s operation, while nearly as many (29 per cent) highlight the inflexibility of the funding rules hampering their ability to take on more apprentices – supporting the CBI’s longstanding call for greater flexibility in the system

Many businesses are struggling to fill apprenticeship places: almost half of respondents have experienced difficulty in recruiting apprentices or expect to do so in the next three years.

Careers guidance overwhelmingly ‘not good enough’

84 per cent of businesses surveyed do not feel the quality of careers advice young people receive in schools is good enough. The Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC), the recently created body tasked with improving business-school links, is known to 21 per cent of firms and encouragingly 75 per cent of those surveyed indicated a willingness to play a greater role by delivering careers advice directly in schools and colleges.

More than a third of businesses say there is too little guidance and support on how to make work experience places worthwhile for young people.

Firms believe there is a lack of awareness among young people of the education routes they need to take to enter particular careers (50 per cent) and careers advice being poorly aligned to the sectors (49 per cent), which leads to skill shortages

Levels of awareness and understanding across business about the new GCSE grading system are growing, but 35 per cent of respondents are wholly unaware of the reforms in England.

Firms value effective school and college partnerships due to the role they can play in supporting young people and their schools, with subject knowledge, careers inspiration or practical business expertise.

Survey responses show 81 per cent of businesses have at least some links with schools and/or colleges, with connections most widespread between businesses and secondary schools (66 per cent) and FE colleges (63 per cent)

31 per cent of employers with established links to primary schools have increased their engagement over the past year, while even more have increased their engagement with secondary schools (35 per cent) and FE colleges (45 per cent).

Work placements for a week or two remain the most widespread work experience, offered by more than nine in ten of firms providing work experience (92 per cent).

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