By Daniel Hunter

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is calling for schools in England to increase their engagement with small businesses, as new research shows only nine per cent of small firms have taken on an apprentice in the last 12 months.

In a new report, The apprenticeship journey, 69 per cent of small firms say they want a greater emphasis on employability skills in schools. The FSB says that by working with local businesses, schools can gain a better understanding of what small businesses need from young people.

Evidence also shows that the more contact young people have to business the better prepared they are for an apprenticeship and the workplace. With 77 per cent of those firms employing school leavers believing that they have poor business knowledge this would be a major step forward.

Government is looking to increase apprenticeship numbers, but almost 42 per cent of businesses believe that an apprenticeship is not relevant for their business. The FSB believes that by engaging local small businesses to provide work shadowing and enterprise lessons as well as information on apprenticeships, it would improve the perception of an apprenticeship for school leavers.

Responding to an FSB survey, around two thirds of small firms have never had any contact with local schools or colleges. Many businesses are unsure about how to get in touch and don’t have the time to ‘cold call’ so it should be up to the school to reach out to small businesses in the local area and build sustainable partnerships with small businesses to provide this valuable knowledge.

“There has been so much change to the apprenticeship system in England over the last 30 years that small firms really don’t know how to access an apprenticeship or what they’ll get at the end of it," John Walker, National Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said.

"This is a missed opportunity. The status of apprenticeships needs to vastly increase in the eyes of young people, schools, parents and employers. Apprenticeships need to be seen as of equal value to academic routes into the workplace.

“By encouraging business engagement earlier in the schools system through careers guidance, work experience and mentoring, not only would it improve people’s opinion, but it would also mean that youngsters can make an informed choice about their choice of career.”

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