Many years ago, when first starting out in life, I wanted to be an electronics engineer and in order to become one took a five year apprenticeship. It meant that I became a ‘second class citizen’ in terms of both pay – not being in sales & marketing and status because I didn’t have a degree so obviously wasn’t considered anything other than junior management until late in life.

I did though eventually make it to Technical Director of a medium size PLC and despite the best efforts of other Directors felt that I ‘owed’ something to my industry and implemented an apprenticeship scheme where we employed on average four apprentices. This of course was before any government funding and/or business tax relief and thus much to the chagrin of some of the other directors we paid for these lads (never seemed to interest the lasses) for their day release college courses and their pay whilst attending college. Being engineering, the college insisted on at least maths and English GCSEs so we were happy to take on school leavers with at least these qualifications and in most cases were well satisfied. From the company point of view each apprentice was a minimum three year commitment. By school leavers we meant anyone from the age of 16 to 18.

These apprentices were paid accordingly and we also took on the odd graduate who with a degree in engineering was paid much more, even as a starting salary.

It comes as some surprise therefore to find that the age that someone can start an apprenticeship is from 16 to 24 and there is nothing to prevent anyone with a degree from applying, indeed I know of at least one charitable organisiation that has taken on graduates as apprentices and from watching the BBC News this morning, it would appear that this is rife with many firms also carrying out the practice.


Why you may ask?

Well, being somewhat cynical, I believe that said organisations are in many cases creating just one year apprenticeships where anyone over the age of 18 can be paid on an apprenticeship just £2.93 per hour for the first year (16 and 17 year olds even less). Hence the one year apprenticeship. This of course means that the businesses do not need to take in graduates at a higher starting salary and can take advantage of all the other generous benefits. These are:-

1. As announced in the Autumn statement, businesses will be exempt from their share of the NI payments.

2. A generous £1,500 a year allowance towards the wages of the apprentice

3. In association with a college, all educational fees paid (employers may have to pay for graduates)

Normally, taking on a graduate, who in most cases we all accept will need some training as an educational environment will never be the same as in the work place, the starting salary is around £17,000. In the scenario above the company therefore will gain a highly educated but extremely low paid individual saving them around £14000 in that first year.

I cannot believe that such a system was envisioned and if it was, it must be just a cynical attempt to reduce the number of graduates on the dole. The government must take action to prevent this abuse.

After all, who wins?

The Business

The government who can show a decrease in graduate unemployment,

And who loses

The 16-19 year olds that were never going to go to University but are more than capable of becoming excellent employees with the correct skills that the business wants i.e. apprentices. This I know from personal experience – after all I was one

The taxpayer who is subsidising the Company and at the moment any company can employ up to 10 apprentices (changing to 5 in January) thus getting 80% of a workforce (allowing for one day a week in college) and saving around £140,000

The graduate who has spent at least three years of their life obtaining a degree and the debt that goes with it, only to find they are having to take much lower paid work than their previous expectations.

Small businesses and the self employed who cannot afford to take on such cheap labour as they just don’t have the time to complete the paperwork and subsequently are no longer competing on a level playing field.

It can be solved by one simple solution – make it a requirement of the government scheme that no funding or subsidies be made available to applicants that have a degree or similar qualification.

Of course as the Tories are controlled by big business – it is never going to happen.


Photo by shrinkin’violet

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