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Poll: Award-winning council scheme sees apprentices paid £5,000 a year

PUBLISHED: 07:30 08 January 2014

West Suffolk House in Bury

West Suffolk House in Bury

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A borough council has praised award-winning apprenticeship schemes where staff working full-time hours are paid just £5,000 a year.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council employs apprentices across its workforce on training contracts, who work full-time hours but are allowed to be paid as little as £2.68 per hour under government guidelines introduced in 2010.

The national minimum wage for under 18s is £3.72, while it is £6.31 for those aged 21 and over.

The St Edmundsbury scheme, which it operates alongside Forest Heath as the West Suffolk Apprenticeship scheme, was developed alongside Unison and won the Sarah Swane Workforce Development & Equality Award 2012.

A spokeswoman from St Edmundsbury said: “The benefits of being an apprentice for the employee are to ‘earn and learn’, gain valuable work experience, increase practical skills and find out about career paths available.

“Perhaps the most important benefit is gaining confidence, maturity and a sense of where you fit in the world, which are invaluable at the start of any career.”

Since 2010, 21 people have been employed under the government minimum apprenticeship wage by the West Suffolk Apprenticeship Scheme, with 10 now employed in permanent positions.

A spokeswoman from the Skills Funding Agency said: “The rate is set to be consistent with current arrangements in parts of the UK.

“The Low Pay Commission has recommended that is fair to apprentices and does not discourage employers from offering apprenticeships. The rate is a minimum, employers can pay more - and many do.”

The vast majority of West Suffolk apprentices are under 25 years old. They are employed on either 18-month or two-year contracts, and some attend college once a week.

Current apprentices work in a variety of roles, from finance and human resources through to mechanics and landscape gardening.

The spokeswoman from St Edmundsbury added: “Taking on someone as an apprentice gives us the chance to ‘grow our own’ by investing in young people through training to build the workforce for the future. Having young people within an organisation brings fresh ideas.

“There is no guarantee that an apprentice will be offered a full-time position within the organisation, but apprentices have access to internal vacancies so if opportunities arise they can take them up.

“Historically, St Edmundsbury has a good record of young people moving from an apprenticeship into full-time work, either with the council or other local employers.”

The £2.68-per-hour rate can only be paid to apprentices under 19 or those in their first year.

A report by the Sutton Trust published in October found an average of 11 people chasing every apprentice position.

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