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Balfour boss says apprenticeship levy has failed

13 Feb 23 Balfour Beatty chief executive Leo Quinn has added his voice to those calling for reform of the apprenticeship levy.

Leo Quinn
Leo Quinn

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Leo Quinn says that the apprenticeship levy should be made a more flexible ‘skills levy’ that responds to employer needs.

He says that employers should be able to match the available funds to the most appropriate training to address specific skills gaps in their workforce and supply chain.

Last week the National Federation of Builders submitted a paper to government explaining how and why the apprenticeship levy was not working. Now the boss of Britain’s biggest construction contractor has added his weight to the call for reform.

In his article he writes: “Balfour Beatty supported the aim of the government’s apprenticeship levy – boosting structured apprenticeship programmes – even before it came into force in 2017. However, despite the government’s intent to establish a technical education system to match our world-leading university sector, the apprenticeship levy in its current form has not delivered.

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“Since the levy’s introduction, take-up has in fact declined: the 713,000 apprentices last year represent the lowest annual total since 2010. It is clear change needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.”

He continues: “While the industry must lead on delivery, the government has an essential role in supporting our skills pipelines. The government’s central focus on developing a new, sustainable skills base is welcome, but more must be done. My direct ask of the government therefore is to fulfil the promise they made last year to fully review, and fix the apprenticeship levy. Build this into their spring statement.

“Flexibility is key. Rules on the length of training are prohibitive. High-quality booster courses, complementary training programmes and shorter units to upskill existing employees rapidly into a different discipline would all have fast and positive effects. Incentivise industry leaders to lead their industries. Enable larger employers to use the levy to mentor and support SMEs which often make up their supply chains.”

However, his argument has not received universal backing on social media. One LinkedIn commentor pointed out that there is already the Workforce Development Fund, the CITB levy and the ECITB levy to support company training programmes. “The apprenticeship levy is for paid employment for over 16s, combining work and study in a job allowing you to develop your workforce and business,” said Christine McLean, a director of the Association of Cost Engineers. “Reforming this into a skills levy means money currently earmarked for apprenticeships would be spent by employers rather than putting their hand in their own pockets for some training. There is a finite amount of money to go around and training the next generation of professionals has to be the answer.”

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