PLANS to make employers bear more of the costs of apprenticeships could hit small businesses hard, it is claimed.

GF Electrical has hit out at proposals for the “co-funding” of apprenticeships, which were part of a government consultation that closed recently.

Michelle Fisher, who established the company 10 years ago with husband Gary, said they had three apprentices among their 11-strong team based at Holton Heath.

She was concerned about the impact on cash flow if employers are forced to pay fees up front for their apprentices’ training and claim back some of the costs through the PAYE system. It is not yet clear how much of the costs would be recoverable.

“For slightly larger companies it’s not too much of a problem but for small businesses and sole traders, it really causes them a problem,” she said.

“We’re still struggling from 2008-9 when the recession was out there, especially in this industry. We don’t need the hassle.”

Apprenticeships in electrical contracting run for four years and require a lot of supervision from experienced staff.

“In the 10 years we’ve been in business, we’ve always had apprentices, but it’s not profitable for a company in the early stages,” said Mrs Fisher.

The company took on apprentices Matt Hughes and Jamie O’Shea last year through the training organisation JTL, which deals with coursework.

Mrs Fisher said: “The guys have brought vitality to the company and have integrated really well into the team.

“We’ve had plenty of positive feedback so we decided to take on another apprentice, Daryl Nimmo, last month.”

Skills minister Matthew Hancock has said the apprenticeship system needs to be reformed “to put it at the forefront of economic growth for years to come”.

A ‘trailblazers’ scheme which began last year saw the setting of new apprenticeship standards in the sectors involved, along with a new funding system which meant businesses received £2 for every £1 they invest in apprenticeships.

Mr Hancock said: “Apprenticeships will deliver higher quality across the board, skills relevant to the future and give everyone in the country the opportunity to realise their potential. I am calling for businesses to come alongside us and we can go forward together.”