The Small Business Q&A: What are ATAs and are they a solution for budding apprentice employers?

The Small Business Q&A: What are ATAs and are they a solution for budding apprentice employers?

Sometimes businesses find themselves in a quandary: they desperately need to employ new talent but they can’t afford it because they don’t have the talent to generate funds… This catch 22 situation is frustrating to ambitious employers keen to nurture fresh thinkers but unable to invest in them. Apprentice Training Agencies (ATAs) could be the answer.

ATAs were introduced by the government’s Skills Funding Agency to bridge a gap for cash-strapped employers and create more Apprenticeship opportunities for young people.

It’s true that some misgivings have been raised about whether ATAs offer apprentices the same value as the traditional Apprenticeship model as they don’t guarantee employment for the apprentice. However, it’s also true to say that they can be a useful way for employers to try apprenticeships out, before committing to them whole heartedly (which of course they’ll want to do once they’ve tried them anyway!).

This is the way they work.

Training providers, such as colleges and private training companies, apply to the Skills Funding Agency to become ATAs. Once they have proven that the Apprenticeship training they provide is of a high caliber and that there is local demand for people with the skills they teach, they become recognised ATAs. This means they can employ young people on behalf of small businesses, or ‘host employers’.

For small businesses the costs traditionally associated with becoming an apprentice employer are reduced. The business pays the ATA a fee proportionate to the apprentice’s wage but the ATA itself takes on the responsibility for recruitment, tax, National Insurance and managing performance.

To alleviate small businesses’ worry about offering long-term employment, where necessary, ATAs take responsibility for finding apprentices alternative roles following their programme. However, concerns have been raised over whether ATAs give businesses flexibility and peace-of-mind at the expense of apprentices’ long-term employment and career choices. There’s also the option of multiple micro businesses sharing a single apprentice which could either mean a more disjointed apprenticeship experience or a more rounded one depending on a number of different factors, such as the businesses’ involved, the apprentice, the way it’s managed, etc.

Although the model has its critics, it’s possible that ATAs could be a useful route into apprenticeships for small businesses trying them for the first time.

It’s early days for ATAs and we’d like to hear what you think.

Are you a business that’s benefitted from apprentices recruited and trained by ATAs? Or have you tried this approach and it’s not worked for your business. Let us know.

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