Luxury fashion brand David Nieper, one of the few still making in the UK, was one of those. But its managing director Christopher Nieper says for his firm the levy has turned out to be a tax on jobs and is failing to plug the skills gap.
Only major reform, he believes, can create the talent pipeline British industry desperately needs.
He explains: “Our family business in Derbyshire already invests five per cent of payroll into skills, more than ten times what the levy requires. Nonetheless in April 2017 we welcomed the renewed focus on skills and began paying into the levy, hoping that apprenticeships would become more relevant and that more funds would go directly into apprenticeships rather the administrating the scheme.
“Now – one year on, we have found the entire process to be disappointing. Our problem with the scheme was that although we are paying into the levy we are unable to use it for the skills we most need. For example, there are no training courses in our area for sewing or garment technology and we’re not allowed to use our levy money towards our own, excellent, in-house training where trainees are taught specialist skills by some of the UK’s most experienced dressmakers – none of the funding can be allocated to this. Furthermore, the levy money has to be spent within 2 years otherwise it’s electronically transferred to HM Treasury.
“Worse still, all new apprenticeships must be delivered against a national apprentice standard and none exist for the fashion/textile industry (frameworks exist but not ‘standards’) so even if there were a training provider we still wouldn’t be able to use our levy.
“So we are now paying for the training of our apprentices and paying into the levy, which we can’t access and has therefore become a tax on jobs.
“To solve the ‘standards’ problem we initiated and led the Government trailblazer for national apprenticeship standards for fashion and textiles, inviting many retailers and designers including Tesco, ASOS and Burberry to contribute. This established the skills, knowledge and behaviours for new apprentice standards across several job roles including; sewing machinist, pattern cutter and garment technologist.
“However, the result of creating a ‘one size fits all’ standard results in agreeing the lowest skill level to suit all so, despite the time invested in this project the new standard isn’t fit for our purpose. Providing our own in-house bespoke training is the only viable training option even though we ourselves have been instrumental in designing one for the industry.
“After a year of frustration for business and at this point 92 per cent of all levy money across the UK not drawn down.”
Nieper’s suggestions for changes to improve the levy and take-up by employers include:
Make the levy available for education on a much broader scale – for example by supporting greater links between industry and schools.
We are the first UK fashion business to sponsor a school – the David Nieper Academy is celebrating its second anniversary this September and is a prime example of how business and education can work together to create a career enriched curriculum with genuine business examples embedded into classroom learning.
Allow businesses to become training providers in their own right – creating virtual apprentice academies and partnering with academies to provide functional skills in Maths and English necessary to run alongside apprenticeships.
Establish a learning and skills tax credit which would encourage companies of all sizes to invest in learning and skills. The framework already exists with the research and development tax credit; the same formula could be applied to businesses investing in learning and skills.
This would make the whole process so much easier for the employers, allowing them to get on with the business of training their apprentices, rather than navigating and breaking through the red tape that surrounds them in the form of the levy.