The Apprenticeship Levy comes into play today, but there's still a lot of smoke and mirrors around what it actually means.
The Levy tax can be used to fund new apprenticeships - something which I've been an advocate of for many years. As a former apprentice myself, I've always practiced what I preach and Pimlico Plumbers has always taken on apprentices, in our corporate offices, as well as amongst our engineers.
In principle, the Levy is great, as it will strong-arm the businesses who are lagging in this department into taking on new apprentices - in turn getting more young people into work, than ever. However, there is a massive loophole that threatens the core principle of this Levy, and I fear many will take advantage of it.
The ambiguity comes into play around the Levy pot, which can also be used to 'upskill' existing staff. Now, I'm all for training employees up to the highest of standards, and indeed, this is our common practice, with our best apprentices going on to management training courses. However, one man's 'upskilling' can very easily be seen as another man's 'escape clause'.
When we think about Alan Sugar's middle class game show, it is not in any way, shape or form a true representation of the hard graft that goes into training an apprentice, and providing a bit of extra training for someone who is already middle management, doesn't cut it in my eyes.
I'm asking the big employers who have the chance to make a real difference across the UK to use the funds that they are entitled to for real, genuine apprenticeships. I've grown my business through them, and I can honestly say that it's one of the best decisions I've ever made.
If the funds are shifted round, until they can be used for something that doesn't really require a whole lot of thought on the part of a business, it defeats the whole point of the Levy. The government has taken very positive steps towards making apprenticeships mandatory - but this loophole offers far too much wriggle room to make an effective change!
Not every company can take on tens or in some cases hundreds of new apprentices each year...and for some, they would actually have to take on a vast number to use their whole Levy pot. I'm not naive enough to think that every penny can and will be spent in this way, but there needs to be some kind of barrier.
I think that a company should have to commit to taking on even just one apprentice in order to be entitled to their levy funds. This might seem harsh, but some people will do whatever they can to sidestep rules and regulations that don't benefit them, and will loophole their way out of a situation.
I'm confident, that if these companies were made to take on even just one apprentice, they would see the extreme value in the enrichment they can offer to the next generation, as well as the many benefits they can get from these young apprentices.