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Micro firms 'need more apprentice support'

VALUABLE EXPERIENCE: Ken Ivey

RUNNING A micro business while also trying to support apprentices in their first experience of work can be an almost impossible task, despite Government guidelines claiming there is ample financial support.

This has been the experience of businessman Ken Ivey who has run garages in Birmingham for the past 13 years and has regularly taken on young apprentices between 16 and 19 for car mechanic training.

But Ivey, who runs Regency Auto Centre in Hospital Street, Nechells, says the cards are stacked against those running small businesses because the support offered simply isn’t enough.

“It’s a very difficult situation because there are a lot of young people out there who want to learn this trade but there needs to be more Government help,” said Ivey, who also ran Handsworth’s Uplands Auto Centre before moving three years ago.

“It’s embarrassing because I have lots of technically-minded lads who turn up here asking me to take them on and train them but I simply can’t. I employ three mechanics, so for an apprentice to be trained it means one fully trained mechanic needs to spend a lot of time with them.

“I know the Government offers £1,500 for an apprentice after the first six weeks but this has to last four years which I think is a laughable amount when you think how much training is involved and the man hours needed to complete this.

“It also doesn’t make sense that apprentices can only be taken on one at a time. In this business it would be far better to train them in pairs so they gain support and confidence from watching each other.”

Ivey says his current auto centre has a massive 17,000 sq ft of space which would make an ideal training base not just for car mechanics, but possibly construction, and plumbing, there are also several separate rooms on the side of the building that would be perfect for sewing classes.

He added: “I would like to apply for grants but after all the investment I would need the reassurance that it would be worth it.”

Ivey is part of Inspiring Ambitions, an African Caribbean-led business group in Birmingham that is campaigning for small businesses to have less red tape and more financial support from Government.

Founder Joan Blaney said: “We are hearing all the time that Birmingham is booming and contracts are coming in from all over the place, but many small businesses who want to help the next generation don’t feel they are part of this.

“Micro businesses are by their very nature at the heart of the community because they work within it and know the community’s needs.

“It’s a travesty really that there are people out there who want to take on apprentices but can’t because it’s just not financially viable in the current climate.”

The National Apprenticeship Service, run by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) offers free and impartial advice to employers looking to expand their apprenticeship programme and insist they are keen to ensure small businesses can get involved.

SIMPLER

A spokesperson said: “We have made efforts to simplify the process of recruiting an apprentice or trainee through the support of employer focused teams.

For employers who have fewer than 250 employees we have a small business team specialising in giving advice and guidance to help address small employer needs. To speak to a small business adviser they need to call 08000 150 600.

“We also have specific apprenticeship programme information for employers on our website. Some companies are eligible for an SFA grant to help fund their apprentices.

“All employers can now apply to create and develop new apprenticeship standards that give employers the opportunity to define the skills, knowledge and behaviours relevant to their future workforce and their industry, which Government-subsidised training will help to deliver.

“In turn this will mean that apprenticeships can more directly support businesses to grow and prosper and will ensure apprenticeships are world class. More details can be found in our Trailblazer guidance.”

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