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Apprenticeships: A quick guide for employers


This week is National Apprenticeship Week. Apprenticeships are now an attractive alternative for many young people due to high university fees. This article provides a brief overview of apprenticeship schemes for employers’ reference.

In response to the ‘skills emergency’ many UK businesses are reportedly facing, the Government has pledged to create three million more apprenticeships by 2020. These will be partly funded by a new apprenticeship levy to be introduced in 2017. With the Government’s commitment in mind, it is important that employers are clear on apprentices’ legal status and are aware of planned changes.

What are apprenticeships?

They are work-based training programmes, which are often funded by the Government. They usually last between one and four years on a fixed term basis. Apprentices can be taken on under either a traditional contract of apprenticeship or a statutory apprenticeship agreement. They type of contract an apprentice is engaged under can be critical to the relationship with the employer.

Do they have any rights?

Apprentices engaged under either form of apprenticeship are likely to be classed as employees for statutory employment purposes. They will therefore benefit from many statutory rights including, statutory maternity, paternity and sick pay as well as unfair dismissal and discrimination protection in the usual way.

However, a traditional contract of apprenticeship give apprentices enhanced protection specifically against dismissal meaning a statutory apprenticeship agreement will often be the option preferred by most employers to minimise the risk of a claim (see below).

Recruiting an apprentice

Apprenticeships are currently part funded by the Government and employer. The Government funding available to fund the scheme is tiered according to age, with greater funding allocated to younger apprentices making this the more appealing sector to employers. It should be noted that if an employer limited the application process by age, this could directly discriminate against older applicants. Employers should also be aware of possible discrimination issues if the terms of the employment offered to apprentices is less favourable than those to other employees of similar status and length of service.

Ending an apprenticeship

Employers should seek advice when considering terminating apprentices, particularly those employed under a traditional contract of apprenticeship. There is only a limited right to dismissal before the end of the fixed term.

The early termination of a traditional contract of apprenticeship carries the risk of a breach of contract claim, based on lost earnings during the balance of the term of the contract and loss of future career prospects. By contrast, an apprentice engaged under a statutory apprenticeship can be dismissed in line with normal employment principles.

Please feel free to contact us on 0191 282 2880 for a no obligation chat or email us if you require further advice regarding apprentices.

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