Apprenticeships. New figures, old failures

is‘High quality skills and apprenticeships lie at the heart of the government’s drive to create the skilled workforce British industry needs to thrive, to boost productivity and build an economy that works for all’ (DfE press release 06/10/16)

As the DfE attempts to talk up apprenticeships, its own data* paints a rather different story. It’s true that between August 2015/16 there were 503,100 starts, slightly up on the previous year, but Cameron also promised that apprenticeships would be high skilled and  provide opportunities for young people. Here the figures continue to be disappointing.

  • Only 130 000 of new starts have by under 19 year olds (up by just 5000 compared to last year) with those 25+ being the largest group (221,000)

  • 60% continue to be at Level 2/ GCSE level (87, 000 of these by under 19 year olds). The number of Advanced Level starts has barely increased since last year. The number of Higher Level (equivalent to starting at university) are up by nearly 30%, but there were still only 27 000 (just 1,700 starts by those under 19)

Finally, though apprenticeships have been by the government as integral to rebuilding manufacturing,  separate sector figures show:

o             142 000 in business and admin

o             131 000 in health & care

o             84,000 in retail

o             77,000 in engineering & manufacturing 

These figures mean that apprenticeship continue to be associated with low paid, low skilled sectors. It’s also the case that 53% of starts were by women – who fill most of the low paid jobs in retail and care

The government has introduced new Trailblazer standards,  developed by groups of employers in each sector and have been designed to address apprenticeship critics. – yet less than 4000 starts have been on these new schemes.

In conclusion:   despite being re -launched and rebranded, apprenticeships continue to experience the same problems. Rather than providing new opportunities for young people or being an alternative to university, they represent Another Great Training Robbery  (Allen 2016   

It should be understood also, that apprenticeships continue to reflect employment trends rather than significantly challenge them, as many of those critical of apprenticeships still fail to understand that in order to begin one, an applicant has to have a job.

The major problem at the moment is that there are nowhere near enough good quality vacancies compared with the number of young people who want them.  In this respect, it’s alternative economic policies that are needed as much as new education and training initiatives like the Government’s proposed Post-16 Skills Plan. 

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