A leading business membership group is backing a scheme set up by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to cover the cost of apprenticeship training for small and medium-sized firms.
The Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund, which was set up by the WMCA, covers the costs of training apprentices at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through larger organisations donating their unspent levy.
The WMCA has joined forces with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in the West Midlands, which represents the interests of small businesses across the region, and with the Ladder Apprenticeship Foundation to call on more SMEs to take advantage of this scheme.
L-R Central Mailing Services apprentice Luke Williams is pictured with company Director Richard Morrow
Businesses that are already benefiting from the fund include Central Mailing Services, of Erdington, Birmingham, which delivers a range of distribution services including data processing, postcards, flyers, envelope enclosing and digital print for clients including Coca Cola, Oxford University Press and Disney Magic Breaks.
The company was established in 1992 and has 90 employees.
Thanks to the levy transfer fund, Central Mailing Services has taken on a new apprentice, 19-year-old Luke Williams, who is working towards a Level 3 qualification as an infrastructure technician.
Luke runs the company’s internal IT helpdesk, dealing with any day-to-day problems experienced by staff, and is also adding new updates to the company’s IT systems.
Company director Richard Morrow said: “I have seen the value apprentices offer to businesses over many years during my career – for example, our finance director started as an apprentice.
“Luke is a brilliant asset. Having joined us fresh from college, he has a great skill set, is passionate in the job and brings a new outlook.
“We wouldn’t have been able to take him on without having his training paid through the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund. Everyone benefits – we are gaining from Luke’s knowledge and he is getting experience and a qualification working with us.”
Luke said: “I’m loving my job and it’s great to learn while earning and work with lots of different people.”
The company is also planning to recruit three more apprentices over the coming months.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “It’s fantastic news that the Federation of Small Businesses and the Ladder are backing our drive to create more apprenticeships at companies like Central Mailing Services.
“Large employers have now pledged more than £5m to the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund, and we want to make sure that as many local residents and businesses as possible benefit from the scheme.
“I’d urge any SMEs from across the West Midlands that are planning to take on new apprentices, or want to upskill their existing workforce, to get in touch with us and find out how we can help.”
Rich Bishop, FSB West Midlands regional chair, said: “Small businesses champion apprenticeships as a great way to tackle skills shortages that often affect them, while also giving young people their first step into employment. They are also a great way of promoting social mobility and helping those furthest from the job market into work.
“The WMCA levy transfer scheme is therefore a major step forward in reducing the cost of apprenticeship training for small businesses in the West Midlands. With access to skilled staff frequently flagged as a barrier to growth in the FSB small business confidence survey, we would encourage small businesses in the West Midlands to take advantage of this support.”
Kevin Davis, Chair of the Ladder Apprenticeship Foundation, said: “As Chair of the Ladder, I look forward to our continued collaboration with the WMCA in promoting apprenticeship levy opportunities to small business.”
So far, the scheme has created more than 320 new apprenticeships at almost 150 small and medium-sized businesses across the region.
The apprenticeship levy is charged by HM Revenue and Customs on all businesses with a payroll of over £3 million. The levy money is held digitally by the Government, and businesses across the country can utilise the funds by paying for apprenticeship training and assessment costs by bringing in new talent or plugging skills gaps with their staff. After a two-year period, unspent levy contributions are ‘sunset’ and retained by the Government.
The £69m Skills Deal agreed with the Government in summer 2018 – the first of its kind in the country – set up the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund by allowing the WMCA to partner large organisations with local small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This means the large employers donate a portion of their unspent apprenticeship levy funds to the smaller companies, covering 100% of their apprenticeship training and assessment costs.