New levy to help fund training

A new apprenticeship levy, launching in April, offers the KBB industry a “great opportunity”, an expert has claimed.

Dr Tony Smart, senior warden and member for the Education and Training Committee at industry charity The Furniture Makers’ Company, said it would allow companies to make a bigger investment in their staff.

“Change to the status quo, such as this new levy, always brings with it a feeling of trepidation – a fear of the unknown,” said Dr Smart. “But this new levy is a great opportunity for companies to take advantage of and invest in their current and future staff so we can upskill employees and help our industry thrive.”

The levy, which will be introduced by the Government on April 6, will raise £2.5 billion for apprenticeships by 2020.

From this date, UK employers with a pay bill of over £3 million per year will be required to contribute a rate of 0.5% to the new levy. The training costs for these large employers will then be funded from the levy.

However, the vast majority of employers will not be eligible to pay the levy, so they will receive government support to pay for apprenticeship training, with a likely charge of around 10% of what it costs to train each apprentice.

TKC commercial director Chris Hazelhurst applauded the need for more education and training in the KBB sector, but criticised the need for the Government to instigate it.

He argued that if everyone took responsibility for training themselves then the need for national control would diminish.

“It’s our responsibility to ensure our customers are competent when installing our products,” said Hazelhurst. “If they aren’t, will they buy them again? Similarly, we want our staff to be able to answer our customers’ technical queries when they arise and give them confidence. Training and development should be at the core of any business and needs ongoing commitment.”

He also claimed that there is a common misconception in the industry that training is only for apprentices.

“The new Government apprenticeship levy system that applies to companies with a payroll over £3m effectively gives you a bill which you get back to spend on training,” he said. “It can now be spent on anything, all the way up to supporting Masters degrees, so I feel it would benefit from a change of name to reflect this. However, the sentiment is one that I think we should all be embracing and ensuring we’re committed to training across the whole company and not exclusively younger employees.”

Hazelhurst confirmed TKC plans to use the apprenticeship levy money to develop more of its staff this year, in particular its managers and the development of succession plans.

He also questioned whose responsibility training is when an independent retailer subcontracts and uses self-employed installers and tradespeople.

“Ultimately the retailers’ reputation and business depends on the finished product they provide,” he explained. “Of course, if the subcontractors want to see repeat business it’s also in their best interest to ensure quality workmanship. Like with most things in our industry, it should be a partnership to ensure that both parties prosper.”

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