As the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt yesterday (15 March) announced his spring statement to Parliament, Mr Hunt has recognised the need for great talent to find their respective routes into world-leading and innovation-driven businesses – as well as encouraging reengagement with the workplace – helping to back a strong, economic recovery from the pandemic.
With this in mind, Mr Hunt this week reaffirmed a commitment towards apprenticeships through the ‘back-to-work’ budget, which sets out to support and grow the UK economy through a commitment of £63 million.
This will include the introduction of so-called ‘Returnerships’, encouraging the over-50s, who may have retired early, to resume their careers.
The funds will enable an additional 8,000 skills bootcamps places in England in 2024-25, and 40,000 new Sector-Based Work Academy Programme placements across 2023-24 and 2024-25 in England and Scotland.
Essentially, this sees the Government further underline that apprenticeships are an essential method for businesses to grow, as well as a successful route into industry for both young people and those who have been affected by labour market challenges.
The Chancellor also confirmed that the Government will invest an additional £3 million over the next two years in the Supported Internships Programme to pilot an expansion of the programme in England to young people entitled to Special Educational Needs support who do not have an Education, Health and Care Plan.
In Oxfordshire, to enable our many world-class, significant sectors to remain competitive globally, we will need to continue to build a skills system that better responds to local demand. This can be done by ensuring that our workforce has the skills that businesses need and value, both now and in the future, as outlined in our Oxfordshire Skills Strategy 2022-2024.
Of course, this not only applies in Oxfordshire, but across the UK – as Local Enterprise Partnerships, one of our aims is to support employers to access the right talent and skills to encourage their overall growth and retention.
Inspiring and preparing young people for the fast-changing world of work is high up on our agenda and apprenticeships are the driving force behind this.
In the year 2021/22, Oxfordshire as a county saw a total of 3,730 apprenticeship starts and 1,440 apprenticeship achievements (or completions) of the qualification. Higher apprenticeship achievements at level also increased by just under a quarter from the previous year during 2021/22, showing that apprenticeships remain a key ingredient within Oxfordshire’s labour force.
But of course, there is more that we can collectively do to support businesses to understand the power of apprenticeships. The Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards – which takes place in May – is a real example of this, demonstrating how incredible they can be for both apprentice and business alike.
Since the launch of our Social Contract Programme in May 2022 – which aims to support those experiencing unemployment and barriers to employment, education and training, and Oxfordshire’s key sectors facing skills and labour shortages – significant levels of apprenticeship levy has been pledged by the county’s larger businesses, enabling our small business community to create their own apprenticeship openings.
By supporting these large organisations to transfer their spend, we can encourage apprenticeship starts and provide funding where it wouldn’t otherwise be accessible.
One of Oxfordshire’s leading employers, JDE Banbury, has pledged over £50,000 of their unspent apprenticeship levy to Katharine House Hospice and Hedena Health Centre, providing training for key roles in the NHS and primary education.
The OxLEP Skills team facilitated this levy transfer, creating a Level 5 Nursing Associate role at Hedena Health Centre.
We continue to work collaboratively with Government and our local authority partners to provide crucial support for the business community and young people, with our primary focus on seeing them through the current challenges presented by the labour and skills shortages.
Our Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Advisors are on hand to offer support and free impartial advice, so take that first step and reach out to us. We are here to provide support and signpost you in the right direction.