This week many parents of 16 and 18 year olds across the country have been finding out whether their children’s A Level and GCSE results are as they’d hoped and resulted in them getting into the university, college or school of their choice. I speak from experience, as my eldest son collected his A level results last week and younger son collected his GCSE results this week. They both did well (thankfully!) but whilst the older one is now going off to University the younger one has opted to enter the world of work.
He has signed an apprenticeship agreement. The law requires that under 18’s in England have to continue with some form of education or training until they are at least 18 years old, so their first form of full time employment will usually be an apprenticeship where there is some qualification to attain through part time learning or training.
It appears to be a popular option for employers recruiting. In the 2013/14 academic year there were 440,000 apprenticeships started in England. It is expected that this year the figure will be higher. The latest ‘Learning to Work Survey’ carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) revealed that half of all the employers surveyed offered apprenticeships and that there were an increasing number of employers specifically wanting to hire apprentices.
Recent legislative changes have made apprenticeships more attractive for employers. New recruits can be offered fixed term contracts of between one and four years without the risks that had been commonly associated with an employer being unable to end an apprenticeship early.
There are also special rates of pay for apprentices if under 19 or in their first year of apprenticeship. So whilst the national minimum wage for a 16 or 17 year olds is currently £3.79 per hour, an apprentice will get only £2.73 per hour or as younger son would point out £109.20 for a 40 hour week.
However, employers should bear in mind that these new recruits fresh from school may need a little more support than others during their first nervous weeks in the working environment. That’s not just good practice, whilst all workers have a number of rights when they start a job 16 and 17 year olds have a few additional ones that are aimed at giving them a little more protection in the work environment.
A number of these have been helpfully highlighted by ACAS this month in their new guide ‘Employing Young People’.
Most concern working time and rest entitlements, for example, employers need to ensure that they do not normally work more than 40 hours per week and that they have at least two days off a week. There are also stricter health and safety duties. Generally an employer will be expected to take into account that they might be unfamiliar with workplace risks. They may need additional help and training to allow them to carry out their work without putting themselves and others at risk. There may be age limits in place on the use of some equipment and machinery.
In addition to making sure that the employer protects the young worker’s health and safety ACAS also recommends that employers take special care in paying 16 and 17 year olds properly “because money talks”. Take for example if the weekly wage is not paid on time – doubling up a 16 year old apprentice’s wages the following week will mean that they will be subject to National Insurance Contributions. A deduction of £8.40 may not appear a lot but will represent over 3-hours wages for a 16 year old apprentice.
A note of caution for employers going forward when taking on new apprentices to also budget for the increase in the minimum pay rates that come into effect on 1 October 2015. Unlike the 8p an hour increase that raises the national minimum wage for 16 and 17 year olds the apprenticeship rate will go up by a whopping 57p taking it to £3.30.
Make sure that there is formal training in place too. The Government has started consultation in relation to the introduction of stricter rules regarding the use of the term ‘apprenticeship’ in order to ensure apprentices benefit from at least 20 per cent of their time being spent on off the job training.