£8m pledged to Co-op service to create 1000 apprenticeships

Almost eight million pounds has been pledged by over 30 businesses to the unique Co-op Levy Share service, which will create almost 1000 apprenticeships and help plug the opportunity gap for underrepresented groups.

The flagship service which was launched last year by Co-op enables businesses across England to pledge their unspent levy which would have otherwise expired, to fund more apprenticeship opportunities for people, who would struggle to find a career path.

Major businesses including Mastercard and Direct Line Group are among those who have pledged to the service so far. As a result, the Co-op has been able to support apprenticeships in 35 different occupations outside of its core businesses, including care, construction and engineering.

However, due to the way in which the Government governs the Levy and its inflexibility, millions of pounds are being left unspent by businesses every month.

Currently businesses can only share up to 25% of their levy funds, with any funds not spent or shared being sent back to HM Treasury. As a result, last year alone, over £250 million was sent back to HM Treasury which could have funded over 25,000 apprenticeships.¹

In response to this and as a major champion of apprenticeships Co-op is calling for an urgent reform from Government on the apprenticeship levy asking that it is made more flexible and that the 25% cap on amount that can be shared is extended to 40%, enabling more people to benefit from apprenticeships.

In addition to more people gaining access to apprenticeships the Government should make apprenticeships accessible to everyone to Level Up by raising their profile as a pathway to a successful career.

Research from Co-op’s Ghosted Generation Report shows that whilst two fifths (40%) of young people want to be an apprentice, uptake of entry level apprenticeships across England has fallen by 25% since 2018 as businesses turn to offering higher level qualifications instead. ²

The pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on young people’s education and career pathways. Almost a third (29%) of 13 to 25-year-olds feel the pandemic has made them less likely to continue with further education and over a quarter (26%) stated that their career aspirations have been ruined as a result.

Co-op is suggesting that as part of a broader strategy of Government’s levelling up disadvantaged communities, Government should make the following necessary changes to its apprenticeship policy:

  1. Stronger focus on entry level apprenticeships which are a crucial ‘stepping stone’ into established career paths. Since 2018, uptake of such apprenticeships has fallen by 25%
  2. Clear geographic targets for where apprenticeships need to be created and are most needed
  3. Encourage local employers to work with local government and mayors to create apprenticeships that are right for the local community
  4. More flexibility within and an extension on the current levy’s expiry
  5. Collaboration between employers to drive the growth of new apprenticeships should be encouraged

Co-op Group CEO, Steve Murrells, said: “Business can play an important role in ensuring everyone has an equal chance to fulfil their potential, no matter who they are or where they come from.

“The current apprenticeship levy can incentivise a business to invest in its people, but the Government need to trust businesses to make apprenticeships truly accessible and ensure that opportunities are distributed fairly so that we as a country can level up.

“With changes to the apprenticeship policy and more flexibility, I know that the Co-op and other businesses could increase the number of apprenticeships each year by 40% – which would bring an established career and bright future for thousands of young people.”

Deputy Chair, Social Mobility Commission, Alun Francis said: “Apprenticeships offer a non-degree route to higher skills, and if targeted at those with high potential but fewer opportunities, can be a valuable tool to promote social mobility. Government, employers and education institutions all have a crucial role to play in ensuring the apprenticeship system delivers on this, with a clear focus on developing local skills and meeting local needs.”