Want an apprenticeship? Join the military!


Apprenticeship data updated yesterday shows starts between August and January down by 4.1% to 195,600 compared to 203,990 reported for the same period in the previous year. Covering a period when young people traditionally leave school or college, under 19s accounted for just 28.4% of these (55,580). These figures will now feature in 2022/3 totals.

The data for the previous year (August to July, 2021/2) already published, shows the total number of apprenticeships starts at 349,000 around 8 % higher than for the two previous Covid years, but 11% lower than the 393,400 reported for 2018/19 and significantly below the 500,000 plus starts in 2015/16. The data also shows the continued decline in under 19 starts – 77,520 for 21/2, compared with 97,700 in 18/19 and 131,420 in 15/16. The share of starts for Under 19s was 22.2% of the total, compared to 30.5% for 19–24-year-olds and 47.4% for those aged 25+.

Something that could be considered more positive, the proportion of level 2 (GCSE standard) starts has fallen significantly from 57.2% in 2015/16 to 26.2% in 2021/22 (in the early years of apprenticeships many firms enrolled existing staff on these schemes to qualify for extra funding) though a third of Level 2 starts are by under 19-year-olds. a level which many of them may already have reached during their years of compulsory schooling. Advanced level starts have grown from 37.5% to 43.3% over the same period, but in 2021/2 only 25% of these were by under 19s. The number of Higher Level starts now make up just under a third (this level didn’t exist in 2015/16), but only a very small fraction (less than 5%) of these are by under 19s; with large firms using apprenticeship levy funding to enrol management trainees on MBA courses (equivalent to Level 6/7 apprenticeships but counted in Higher Level totals). In otherwords government attempts to promote apprenticeships as real alternatives to university, even recent attempts to offer then through UCAS, have been a massive failure. 75% of Higher-Level starts are by those over 25.

Science, technology engineering and maths (STEM) subjects accounted for 28.2% of starts – an increase from 24.3% in the previous year. 2020/2. Health, public services and care has taken over as the most popular subject area (28.6% of starts), overtaking Business, Administration and Law (26.9%). Worryingly, the data shows the share of starts in general FE colleges falling from 23.7% in 2018/19 to 18.7% in 2021/22. In otherwords, despite college glossy advertising, most apprenticeship training is organised by private sector organisations.

Apprenticeships in the public sector and the military

The data includes figures from the public sector where government had specified that organisations in England with 250 or more staff must have at least 2.3% of their staff as new apprentice starts over the 2021/2 period. On average of 1.8% of public sector employees started an apprenticeship, slightly higher than the 1.7% reported for last year (a combined total of 62,600 apprenticeship starts have been reported).

Spot the apprentice?

‘Apprentices are becoming increasingly popular in the public sector workforce’ reads the commentary alongside these statistics, yet closer investigation shows that this is a rather uneven spread.  By having 7.1% of personnel start apprenticeships in 2021/2, the Armed Forces are far ahead of anybody else (The police are second on 2.1%). With 82% of new recruits (totalling 11,200) it seems the forces are using apprenticeships (the army offers a wide range of schemes) for the young entrants they would have recruited and trained anyway. Based on a further assumption that most of those signing up will be under 19, I’d suggest that 1 in 10 starts for this age would be with the military?

2 thoughts on “Want an apprenticeship? Join the military!

  1. Very interesting … as an employer the armed forces have always been big on training of course (my father joined the army as a regular during national service in the 1950s, as he realised he could get training that way, whereas he would otherwise have to spend two years marching around a parade ground learning nothing).

    Although much smaller in terms of number of employees, it now appears that they are using the apprenticeship route with a vengeance.

    It’s also worth pointing out that they put considerable resources into vocational training for those intending leaving the armed forces and joining the ranks of the general workforce, through something called the Career Transition Partnership (CTP). Interestingly although taxpayer funded and with no shortage of public sector training organisations, the CTP appears to be outsourced to a private company. I don’t begrudge those joining the armed forces getting substantial training on entry and for exit of course, but I do query why other parts of the public service (civil service, local government, publicly funded education institutions, etc) do not appear to get the same ‘gold standard’ service from HMG, and have to scrimp and save on training and make do with individuals making their own efforts/paying their way or externality poaching (picking up people already trained by other employers).

    A detailed analysis of armed forces role in vocational training and cost compared to other public sector/state organisations would be of great interest …

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