Tesco has called on the government to overhaul the apprenticeship levy in a bid to create thousands of new roles across the retail sector every year.

The supermarket giant said changes to the levy could lead to 8,000 new retail apprenticeships every year, with 500 of those being created at Tesco alone.

The number of apprentices dropped 18% last year to 161,900, meaning there were 36,700 fewer places for young people. Companies have returned hundreds of millions of pounds in unused support after being unable to use the levy to its full potential.

The funds can currently only be used on courses that are at least one year long and are carried out with dedicated apprenticeship training providers.

Tesco warned that a lack of flexibility meant creating apprenticeships was a financial burden on smaller shops, which have to pay for other staff to cover when apprentices are in training.

No Limits x Lifetime logo (September 2021)

Tesco’s call for apprenticeship levy reform comes during Retail Week’s No Limits campaign, aimed at championing and encouraging the role of social mobility within the retail sector.

Retail Week has joined forces with Lifetime Training to create the Ecommerce Excellence Programme, which will equip 5,000 apprentices with the skills they need to thrive in the digital economy. 

For more information on the No Limits campaign, or the apprenticeships on offer through our partnership with Lifetime Training, click here or email Retail Week editor Luke Tugby at luke.tugby@retail-week.com. 

Tesco said it wanted to “increase the opportunities for young people to start their careers and build valuable skills”, and has urged the government to carry out three reforms to the apprenticeship levy.

The grocer has called on Westminster to allow up to 10% of levy funds to support pre-employment and pre-apprenticeship programmes; to allow funds to be spent on courses that are shorter than a year; and to allow 10% of funds to cover a portion of apprenticeship costs outside of training.

Tesco said such reforms would allow retailers to offer “more tailored training courses”, which would help people learn “retail-specific skills, such as driving”.

Britain’s biggest retailer said such reforms would also mean it could develop young peoples’ pre-employability skills or even help to teach them English and maths.

Tesco chief executive Ken Murphy said: “This report shows that what we do as a business has an impact on everyone around us, not just our customers and colleagues, but also the local communities we operate in.

“It is fantastic to see the contribution of Tesco so far, but I know there is more we can do and we are absolutely ready to play our part as the UK rebuilds following the pandemic. There is a real opportunity here to boost jobs growth, after one of the most challenging years.

“What we’re asking for is simply the flexibility to use the apprenticeship levy to its full potential and give young people the valuable skills, training and experience that will translate into better opportunities in their careers.”