Poor workplace skills blamed for low take-up of SME apprenticeships

Only nine per cent of small firms have taken on an apprentice in the last year with many believing they are not beneficial to their business, a report by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has claimed.

Of firms that do employ school leavers, three quarters (77 per cent) say that apprentices have poor business knowledge, with nearly half (42 per cent) of those questioned believing that apprenticeships are not valuable to their business.

The small take-up comes despite the fact that more than two thirds of small firms (69 per cent) want to see a greater push for employability skills to be taught in schools.

Chairman of the FSB, John Walker, called the current situation a 'missed opportunity' with small firms unaware of how to access an apprentice or what the advantages may be.

"The status of apprenticeships needs to vastly increase in the eyes of young people, schools, parents and employers. Apprenticeships need to be seen as of equal value to academic routes into the workplace."

In response to the survey, the FSB is calling for schools and local businesses to work together to establish what skills small businesses need from young people.

Amongst its suggestions in the report, it said that small firms should engage further with local schools to provide work shadowing and enterprise sessions, as well as information on apprenticeship schemes, to improve the perception of apprenticeships for school leavers.

According to evidence, young people with increased contact with the business environment are better prepared for an apprenticeship and the workplace.

The Government is planning to invest around £1.5 billion in apprenticeships in 2012-13, with the National Audit Office (NAO) estimating that apprenticeships produce economic returns at £18 for every £1 of funding.