The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has stepped up its campaign to encourage more businesses to highlight the value that apprentices bring to their company – in an all-out bid to urge more firms across the UK to hire them.

Demand from young people for apprenticeship places continues to outstrip the supply provided by employers. In some recent surveys, demand outpaces supply by a rate of 12 to one.

With youth unemployment still unacceptably high at 917,000 in the UK, the leading business group is campaigning to get more companies to recognise the benefits of apprenticeships – and to increase the supply of places available.

The BCC is also calling on the government to make it more attractive for companies to take on apprentices, urging the Chancellor to use his Spring Budget later this month to announce:

  • A two-year extension to the successful Apprenticeships Grant for Employers (AGE) scheme, which would boost the supply of apprenticeship places and spur on-going business investment in young people; and
  • A new £1,000 time-limited payment to businesses that hire a 16-to-24 year-old in 2014 – challenging companies to take on and train more of the 900,000 young people looking for work at a critical point in Britain’s economic recovery.

Companies tell the BCC that apprentices are an important part of their workforce, as they are committed, dynamic and willing to learn. Incentives to increase apprenticeships would benefit the economy too: the government’s own research has shown that for every apprenticeship created through the Apprenticeships Grant for Employers (AGE) scheme, the Treasury would collect at least £31,360 in additional tax over that person’s working life.

Nora Senior, President of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: “Many businesses recognise the unique contribution that younger workers can make to their business. Apprenticeships give young people the opportunity to learn a new skill, and give businesses the opportunity to teach them a trade that is specific to their business.

“However, hiring younger workers without a track record is a large commitment for a company. Training them is resource and time intensive. Our message to businesses is ‘take a chance and see for yourself the contribution that young people can make. Chambers of Commerce across the UK stand ready to provide advice and support to your company if you’re unsure about the process and the potential benefits to your business.’

“There are also things that government can do to encourage businesses to invest in someone who is less experienced – starting with a commitment to extend the successful Apprenticeships Grant for Employers scheme, which is set to end in December 2014 if ministers don’t act now.

“Making the transition from education to work is challenging for both employers and employees. Schools and colleges need to improve academic rigour, but they also need to improve careers advice and promote apprenticeships as a viable route to a great career. They should be bending over backwards to inform their pupils of the apprenticeship opportunities available in their local area.

“Businesses, too, have a vital role to play. Their investment and their openness to taking on apprentices will determine whether the workforce of tomorrow is adequately trained up today.”

Ayla Uzunhasan, 20-year-old social media apprentice at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Too many people think that apprenticeships are only about traditional trades, but that’s simply not the case. Working as a professional apprentice has allowed me to help boost my organisation’s digital profile, and it is really rewarding when I get to teach colleagues new things about the likes of Twitter and Google Plus.

“Being able to learn on the job and gain valuable work experience will stand me in good stead for my future career, and makes me feel confident about my prospects.

“More businesses need to take a chance and hire their first apprentice, and see for themselves that apprenticeships can deliver real benefits not just to young people starting out in their working lives, but also to their business’s success.”