Apprenticeships change lives. That’s the mantra of Charlie Mullins OBE, founder and chief executive of Pimlico Plumbers in London, a thriving business that employs 350 workers, 45 of them apprentices.
Mr Mullins spent four years as an apprentice plumber in south-west London.
“When I was a kid, it was a great achievement to get an apprenticeship. We were trained properly and we were taught that we were as good as anyone else; that one day you could even have your own business,” he told Chief-Exec.com yesterday.
“It’s a good way to learn. You get the money to pay the bills and earn a bit of respect.”
Mr Mullins said his apprentices – young men and women training to be plumbers and administrative staff – attended college one day a week and some took evening classes.
We’ve got a massive skills shortage, massive unemployment among young people. Businesses need to contribute because there’s no future without apprenticeships
If he could, Mr Mullins would make it compulsory for companies to employ one apprentice for every 10 workers, a move that he says would improve the UK’s skills base and cut youth unemployment. And the unemployed young would have their job seekers allowance paid directly to business in exchange for an apprenticeship.
But the government’s new apprenticeship levy scheme is a good start, he said.
Mr Mullins supports the levy – half a per cent for businesses with a pay bill of more than £3 million from April – which his company will pay.
“We’ve got a massive skills shortage, massive unemployment among young people. Businesses need to contribute because there’s no future without apprenticeships,” Mr Mullins said.
He acknowledged that some companies had mixed feelings about the levy.
“Some don’t understand it. Some are worried they can’t afford it. It may not be the simplest thing in the world, but we’ve got to start somewhere. And a lot of the small businesses won’t pay anything.”
Mr Mullins said he had seen both sides of the equation – as an apprentice and as a business owner.
“Skills are in demand. You can be self-employed, a success. That’s what I say when I go to colleges to speak to young people.
“Apprenticeships give you very transportable skills. It’s even becoming fashionable to be an apprentice.”
By Aban Contractor