Swindon & Wiltshire Business News


Business leader calls on companies to embrace apprenticeships and close skills gap

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Apprentices Kieran Simon, Jack Upton, Dan Mayell, Jake Jones, and Dan JagoApprentices Kieran Simon, Jack Upton, Dan Mayell, Jake Jones, and Dan JagoA Chippenham business leader has called on Swindon and Wiltshire companies to embrace apprenticeships during National Apprenticeship Week – March 5 to 9.

Over the last year the number of apprenticeships offered by employers has dropped dramatically – in spite of a government plan to increase the number of apprentices to three million by 2020.

One the reasons cited for this drop has been the introduction last year of the new Apprenticeship Levy which – it’s believed – many companies still don’t understand.

This scheme imposes a tax on large businesses with a wage bill of £3m or more who have to contribute a small percentage of that wage bill to the cost of funding apprenticeships nationwide. This levy affects around the top two per cent of UK businesses.

Debbie Williams, who is co-founder of John Williams Heating Services and president of the Chippenham Chamber of Commerce, said: “Apprenticeships are a key part of our business and always have been. We currently have six apprentices and many of our staff started off their careers as apprentices.

“It’s a fantastic route to a career and we have a large skills gap in this country and relatively low productivity compared with many other nations.

“This drop in apprenticeships may be due to the introduction of the levy which will take some time to bed in. However I would urge any employer to explore apprenticeships through colleges and other providers in their area. Most businesses don’t pay the levy, but this does mean there is funding available across many sectors and discipline to train people up in the necessary skills while they learn on the job.”

National Apprenticeship Week is in its 11th year and this year’s theme is “Apprenticeships Work”. Events will take place nationwide to showcase the value apprenticeships can bring to the UK economy.

One of the recent apprentices at John Williams Heating Services is Debbie’s own daughter Georgina, who is now the office manager of the busy Bumpers Farm-based company.

“I have gained a much wider knowledge of business and a wealth of experience whilst also studying at the same time. Now I’ve taken on a responsible job which challenges me every day and I know I’ve introduced some changes which have made the business more efficient.”

Debbie said: “Georgina has brought so much to us – from fine-tuning our processes through to teaching us many aspects of efficient administration. It’s not just about what we can do for an apprentice, it’s equally about what they can do for us.”