We do need to be careful about this. You can well understand why Robert Halfon was so keen to tweet the good news earlier that he’s got a better deal to encourage small firms to employ apprentices:
Employers: <50 employees? 100% of training costs covered.
True, but misleading. And a trap we need to avoid.
Misleading because although the Minister worded his tweet carefully, DfE is deliberately restricting how the Apprenticeship Levy can be spent. The formal guidance makes these distinctions about what the Levy can be spent on:
It can’t be used on other costs associated with your apprentices or wider training effort. For example wages, statutory licences to practise, travel and subsidiary costs, managerial costs, traineeships, work placement programmes or the costs of setting up an apprenticeship programme.
So not quite a free gift after all. Pay’s the big one; even if an employer only manages the minimum wage, which is reduced for apprentices, it’s quite a bit more than nothing. And apprentices need to get to college; they need a supervisor to keep an eye on them, and to teach them things on the job; they may well need protective clothing; and so on. It won’t work – it will be counter-productive – to con small employers that the State will pick up the tab for all this.
And it’s a trap, because everybody wants employers to be conscientious about their new apprentice – and I most certainly include the Minister in that; he’s clearly a decent chap who wants this to work for apprentices as much as for the economy at large.
If we push the ‘free gift’ line too carelessly we’ll get the wrong employers queueing up for the wrong reasons.