JTL, a training charity for the building services engineering sector, is urging firms to take advantage of a new grant worth £1,500 to take on an apprentice.

JTL chief executive Denis Hird says that, at a time when a lack of bank finance is discouraging contractors from making commercial investments, particularly in apprentices, the AGE grant could be a "lifeline". 

The AGE grant is available until March 2013 and specifically targets SMEs who have never taken on an apprentice, or who have not had an apprentice in the last three years. Worth £1,500 each, there are 40,000 AGE grants available nationwide, across all sectors, with all training providers, and in all colleges. JTL is well placed to help contractors bid for the grant.

The AGE grant aims to support employers by helping to offset the cost of taking on an apprentice aged between 16 and 24. While JTL welcomes this as a positive move by government, Hird has raised concerns that the administration of the grant may put firms off applying, saying: “The AGE grant targets firms that haven’t ever taken an apprentice on before, or maybe haven’t done so in the last three years for whatever reason. My concern is that this is the group that are disinclined because of the reams of paperwork that they believe they will have to complete in the application. I say, ‘Don’t let a form stop you – you won’t regret it!’”

To facilitate business access to the AGE grant, JTL is offering firms assistance in filling out the applications, as well as providing advice on the commercial benefits of taking on an apprentice.

Hird adds: “The daily challenges of running a business may leave firms little time to fill in the application forms for the grant, which many will also see as a daunting task. This is where JTL is uniquely placed. As a training charity, we apply for grants on the behalf of employers. This means they get the cash, while we take care of the paperwork. Additionally, we can give employers practical advice that will also maximise their return on investment by managing their apprenticeship training programme every step of the way.”

Turning his attention to the wider issue of financing for firms, Hird continues: “The AGE grant and initiatives such as these are a great step forward but they are just the start of what needs to be done to support businesses. Government needs to look at long-term solutions that help the private sector stand on its own two feet.

“We recently conducted a survey which found that 60% of employers in our sector believe they are being held back by a lack of banking support. That’s why JTL is asking government to take action to increase lending to SMEs. Increased banking support gives firms the ability to win more work, and thus take on more apprentices. Putting pressure on banks to lend to responsible employers will lead to more work and will help reduce the number of young people not in education, employment or training.

"To this end, we are already taking the case of employers to government – for instance, in March, we brought employers to meet MPs at the House of Commons to share with our elected representatives how important apprenticeships are to their ongoing success.”

Hird concludes: “In these tough times, employers need to have clear incentives to encourage them to invest in training. While we still believe government must take firm and decisive action on lending to businesses, this new grant should help offset some of the financial risk to an employer. It’s good news for firms, and it’s good news for young people who are eager to work.

“I urge contractors to take advantage of this investment so that they, and their business, can reap the rewards. We welcome firms to contact our regional training experts to see how we can help them access the grant and open the doors to taking on an adult apprentice to take their business forward.”