Three large employers are helping the region’s economy to recover from the Covid-19 shutdown by contributing more than £200,000 to fund apprenticeship training for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through a scheme set up by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).
Enterprise Rent a Car, developer St Modwen Properties and City of Wolverhampton Council are the latest big employers to pledge their unspent apprenticeship levy to support local SMEs – following a record number of new apprenticeships being funded in June.
The WMCA set up the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund to cover the costs of training apprentices at SMEs in the West Midlands.
Digital skills in action
Last month, the scheme funded training for a record number of 232 apprentices across the region. A total of 936 apprentices and 302 SMEs have now benefited from the fund.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands and former managing director of John Lewis, said: “It’s great news that City of Wolverhampton Council, Enterprise and St Modwen Properties are funding apprenticeship training at smaller organisations, helping us to support the largest ever number of apprentices last month.
“It’s critical that we support new opportunities including those for young people, who we know are being disproportionately hit by the coronavirus lockdown. The levy transfer fund shows how we are taking practical action to equip people with the skills employers will need in the future, as our region’s economy recovers from Covid-19.
“I’d urge any SMEs in the West Midlands that are thinking about taking on new apprentices, or want to give their existing workforce better qualifications and skills, to get in touch with us and find out how we can help.”
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 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.
This approach keeps levy money within the West Midlands region, boosting skills, job opportunities and productivity by supporting more young people and adults of all ages into work.
Cllr Ian Brookfield, leader of City of Wolverhampton Council and WMCA portfolio holder for economic growth, said: “As we recover from the Covid-19 shutdown, it’s vital that we support local SMEs to expand.
“The Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund is a great way for young people and adults of all ages to gain new jobs and qualifications, and for local businesses to upskill their staff. Apprenticeships can now also be undertaken by staff who are on furlough.
“We are pleased to be able to contribute £100,000 for apprenticeship training for businesses in Wolverhampton, which will help to boost economic growth, support our residents into jobs and improve skills in our local workforce.”
Beth Freemantle, talent acquisition manager at Enterprise, which has pledged £60,000, said: “The levy transfer system enables Enterprise to allocate unspent apprenticeship levy to help other organisations invest in developing talent. The suggestion to support the WMCA’s apprenticeship programme came from one of our team who works in the West Midlands. As a business we are committed to helping young people to start their careers and people of all ages to receive high-quality training and development.
“SME businesses play a vital role in local and regional economies, so we are pleased to be able to support this sector.”
Becky Cund, head of HR operations at St Modwen Properties PLC, which has pledged £45,000, said: “We are delighted to be working with the WMCA to support smaller organisations to be able to offer apprenticeship opportunities in their businesses. We hope to support a number of smaller employers in the construction industry to help meet the growing skills demand in our sector.
“In addition to supporting our own sector, following the substantive impact of Covid-19 and the skills shortage in the care sector, our donated levy funds will also be used to provide apprenticeship opportunities in this very important area. This will not only help to boost our local economy but, just as importantly, deliver a positive impact in the heart of our community.”
The WMCA is now calling on SMEs who may not have considered hiring apprentices to tap into the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund. Large organisations are also being encouraged to get in touch to discuss transferring their remaining levy.