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Dragons' Den THEO PAPHITIS: Apprenticeships are a win-win for employers and employees

To mark National Apprenticeship Week (NEW), Theo Paphitis, star of Dragons' Den, chairman of Boux Avenue lingerie and Ryman Stationery and investor in Magic Whiteboard Limited www.magicwhiteboard.co.uk , calls on UK companies to invest in apprenticeships and training despite the economic slump.

As someone who started life as an apprentice – making tea and filing documents at a Lloyds of London broker – I am well qualified to vouch for the benefits of apprenticeships. My own businesses have trained over 100 apprentices in recent months so I am able to appreciate the benefits from the point of view of employers too.

Magic Whiteboard is a small business and we believe apprenticeships are a great way for young people to get a job, learn new skills and get paid.

Employees tell me that the most important advantage for them is that they can earn while they learn. Our apprentices have the same starting salary as our new employees. There are also academic benefits. A Level II Retail Apprenticeship qualification is equivalent to five GCSEs while the Level III Advanced Apprenticeship represents an achievement similar to two A levels. This really helps those who left school without reaching their potential as it gets them back into the groove of learning.

And of course, apprenticeships give people a national recognised qualification and better prospects. There is always the risk that people might take these skills elsewhere but the staff retention rate in Ryman is astonishingly good.

Which brings me on to the benefits to employers. Crucially, the bottom line is improved through increased productivity and competitiveness. There’s nothing like giving people a challenge. Our staff like to complete their courses at top speed, such is their enthusiasm. Lower staff turnover leads to reduced recruitment costs and a committed and competent workforce is what any employer would want.

In November 2011, the government announced a new ‘Small Employer Incentive’ designed to encourage thousands of small firms to take on a young apprentice aged 16 to 24. This will support up to 40,000 new apprenticeships.

The incentive is for employers with up to 50 (and in some cases up to 250) employees and comprises a payment of £1,500 payable in two stages. It will be available to small firms in all industries and for apprenticeships at all levels from April 2012.


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