The number of apprenticeship starts has fallen again. Latest government figures show just 290, 500 starts for the nine-month period from last August. This compares with 440,300 for the same period a year ago. The Department for Education chart below illustrates the extent of the decline. It suggests that David Cameron’s target of 3 million new apprenticeships by the end of the decade, may now not be reached. The decline in starts has coincided with the implementation of the employer levy and opponents of this will want to draw their own conclusions.
Apprenticeship starts per quarter
Source DfE Apprenticeships and Trainee Release July2018
The levy has not been popular with many employers who rather than use it to recruit apprentices have written it off in their tax returns. There may well be issues with the way funds are collected, but the principle that employers should contribute towards national training programmes, remains a good one. It needs to be remembered also that it’s only large employers that contribute (those with a payroll of £3 million) and therefore only half of starts have been levy supported. Smaller employers have up to 90% of their training costs reimbursed by government funds. Also, new apprenticeship specifications, designed to improve ‘quality’ allow much greater flexibility over training providers .
But if the fall in apprenticeship starts is disappointing the types of schemes and age of apprentices continues to be much more worrying. Despite government pressure, almost half of all starts continue to be at intermediate (GCSE level). On a more positive note the number of Higher level apprenticeship starts continues to increase significantly, representing almost 1 in 4 of all starts – but equally significant, less than half of these are starts by under 25-year olds. Likewise only around a third of Advanced Level starts are by those under 19.
The continued demise of apprenticeships will mean that policy makers will now focus on the new Tech-levels being unveiled from 2019 and designed to be delivered full-time in further education colleges. Yet as this site has continued to argue, as Britain becomes a post -industrial economy, where employers put increasing emphasis on ‘generic’ rather than traditional occupational skills and where the ‘middle jobs’ with which apprenticeships have been associated, continue to ‘hollow out’, there’s little to suggest that another round of vocational qualifications will be any more successful in providing proper employment opportunities for those young people not able or not wishing to spend three years at university.
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