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UK retailers urged to get behind National Apprenticeship Week

UK businesses including fashion retailers and manufacturers will be called upon to offer more training opportunities to the next generation of workers as part of National Apprenticeship Week on March 9-13.

Two million 16 to 24-year-olds have been enrolled on apprenticeship schemes since 2010. The government’s Skills Funding Agency is hoping to encourage 140,000 small and medium-sized enterprises to offer opportunities in the 2015-16 academic year, up from 124,000 in 2014-15.

Next week’s awareness campaign is designed to promote the benefits of apprenticeships through events at schools and colleges and visits by ministers and senior figures to local businesses.

Drapers Independents Award-winning surf retailer Ann’s Cottage, which has 13 stores in Cornwall, is taking on three apprentices this month for the first time. Area manager April Wakeling told Drapers the aim is to retain them and train them up over a number of years to become managers.

“By seeing it as a long-term thing it’s an opportunity for us to mould [the apprentices] into our way of doing things. The awareness week is a great idea because a lot of businesses don’t have the time to research what young people can bring.”

Jules Aldred, owner of Cornwall-based wellington boot brand Rockfish, is hiring an apprentice to handle the business’s social media and blog. He said: “Someone young will connect us to the next generation of customers; however, being small means we need to balance how much of our team’s time will be diluted.”

The Forum of Private Business has warned smaller firms to ensure they are aware of the legal obligations of offering a training scheme, such as paying the minimum wage, providing a minimum 12-month placement and 20 days paid holiday per year.

The current wage rate for an apprentice is £2.73 an hour. In the Low Pay Commission’s most recent recommendation to the government it suggested a rise of 2.5% to £2.80.

Official figures released by the National Apprenticeship Service, part of the Skills Funding Agency, show 96% of employers who take on an apprentice feel the benefits to their business, while 72% report improved productivity as a direct result.

Following 2014’s National Apprenticeship Week, 20,000 employers pledged to recruit apprentices and, in January, the government announced a 28% year-on-year increase in apprenticeship vacancies advertised online between August and October 2014.

@LukeToddUK

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