In terms of shock value, news that employers are up in arms about the Apprenticeship Levy is somewhere in the league of stories involving The Pope, Catholicism, wooded areas, and ursine toilet habits.
Ever since the levy was introduced, the employers’ groups have ‘represented’ their member views, to the unmistakeable effect that the Apprenticeship Levy is not fit for purpose, and that it should be replaced with something more suitable.
It’s clear that much about the current scheme that could be improved. It is nothing if not a blunt instrument – but then any national scheme to change organisational behaviour is likely to be a blunt instrument, particularly in its first iteration.
However, much of the recent media noise leaves one with the distinct impression that many employers would like the levy replaced with something that was, in fact, completely optional.
It’s right that an inefficient scheme should provoke anger. But the anger should not just be because of wasted resources. It should be that the scheme is not doing what it is meant to do, and address a clear and present danger to the UK economy.
With considerable uncertainty around our policy on skilled immigration, and with educational standards sliding down the international league tables, UK employers face the very real possibility of a skills crisis in the coming decade.
The only way to address this is through investment in training and professional development. It’s so obvious that it shouldn’t need to be said. But the pressure of the quarterly market report is so great as to outweigh any considerations of long-term competitiveness, either domestically or internationally. It should be no surprise that privately-held companies often have very well developed and successful apprenticeship schemes – without sort-term pressure from the shareholder community, it is far easier for an organisation to invest in building a workforce fit for the future of the economy.
That pressure, of course, isn’t a company’s fault, but equally it isn’t a force of nature – it is a function of business and market regulation. As the government looks at ways to make the Apprenticeship Levy more effective, it should take account of the external forces that compel organisations to act in the way they do – some joined-up thinking would not be amiss.