• BCC research shows that only 15% of firms plan to take on an apprentice in the next year

Responding to Vince Cable’s announcement on a new drive to boost apprenticeships, Dr Adam Marshall, Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“Businesses do see the benefits of apprenticeships. For many business owners they are a critical way to train up young people and adults that then help grow their firms. However, smaller companies often shy away from taking on apprentices. They worry about the initial costs involved, the skill levels of candidates, and the potential risks to their business, particularly at a time when employing people is tough due to worries about the economy.

“For some time we have been telling ministers that small firms must be incentivised to take on apprentices, so we welcome the government’s moves to strip away some of the obstacles that have made it hard for smaller firms to get engaged. Health and safety constraints, inflexible teaching frameworks, and high upfront costs often deter companies from taking on apprentices. By reducing red tape, and incentivising businesses to take the plunge, the government is offering real help to firms and apprentices alike.

“The announcement of an external review of apprenticeship standards and frameworks is a positive step, and will be critical to making apprenticeships flexible and relevant to employers across the country.”

The BCC’s recent report “Skills for Business: More to Learn?” found:

• Profile of apprenticeships must be raised. Over half (54%) of companies surveyed felt that apprenticeships were ‘not relevant’ to their business or sector.

• Fewer businesses planning to hire apprentices: Only 15% of companies planned to take on an apprentice between April 2011 and April 2012, compared with 20% of companies that had taken on an apprentice in the preceding year.

• Time, cost, and inexperience are also barriers: Around 20% of companies cited each of these factors as a barrier to taking on an apprentice.

• Apprenticeships benefit business growth: 82% of companies that do offer apprenticeships say they help to build long-term skills and capacity within the company.

• Smaller companies need encouragement: A fifth of firms with fewer than 10 employees, and also a fifth of those with fewer than 10-50 employees recruited an apprentice in the last year (April 2010-April 2011). Whereas this rose to over a third of companies with 100-249 employees, and to over a half of companies with more than 250 employees