Apprenticeship numbers on rise, according to government figures

New figures from the Department of Education show significant drop on previous year, but increase on previous months

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The number of people starting an apprenticeship has risen for the first time since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy last April.

Figures published today by the Department of Education show 114,400 people started an apprenticeship in between August and October 2017 – 21,400 in August, 58,600 in September and 34,300 in October. While this is still more than 26 per cent lower than the figures reported at the same time last year, it represents a significant increase on the previous quarter, when starts dropped almost 60 per cent compared to the previous year and 48,000 people started an apprenticeship. 

Skills minister Anne Milton said tha the last year had been a period of significant change, it would take time for employers to adjust. “But we must not lose sight of why we introduced our reforms in the first place – to put quality at the heart of this programme, and putting control in the hands of employers," she added. “It is right that they are taking their time to plan ahead, with two years to spend their levy funds, and maximise the opportunities an apprenticeship can bring for both the learner and employer. Feedback we’ve had shows employers are doing exactly that.”

More recruits expected

In December, A survey by business body CBI suggested almost half of businesses expect to recruit more apprentices during the next 12 months, while only four per cent planned to cut back. 

In today’s report, the government said there were 114,400 apprenticeship starts reported so far for the first quarter of the 2017-18 academic year, compared to 155,600 reported at this time in 201617 – this represented a decrease of 26.5 per cent. "However, the decrease was not as large as the drop between quarter four 2015-16 and quarter four 2016-17, which is likely to be associated with the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April 2017."

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers said: "For a government committed to improving social mobility, ministers have to be really concerned about the continued drop in starts for both young people and at lower levels. 

"The government has got to look again at the incentives for recruiting young people and make sure that there are apprenticeship opportunities available across the country. This means that employers shouldn’t be charged for taking on 16- to 24-year-old apprentices and they should be given more flexibility in how they train them. The big cuts in the funding of apprenticeships in smaller employers make no sense at all when ministers are chasing a three million quality starts target and all registered providers should be given access to funding for all employers now, but most importantly it’s the productivity and social mobility agendas that require a reversing of these cuts."

'Smaller fall'

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said while the fall is smaller than in the three months after the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, "which may suggest the new system beginning to bed in". "However, a smaller fall is probably not the headline the government were looking for, and their three million target looks some distance away," he said. "In any case, the target is measuring the wrong thing. It's based on starts not completions, and doesn't look at quality or access. We need to look more broadly at the learning and skills system for young people as a whole."

CBI's managing director of people policy Neil Carberry said: “A fresh approach is needed to make skills reforms work.  The CBI will continue in its calls to government to evolve the apprenticeship levy into a flexible skills levy, so firms can fund training for their people whatever the form of high quality course they do. And policy makers must collaborate more closely with businesses and learning providers to design a stable national framework for skills. If we all work together to get this right, confidence can be built that the English skills system won’t keep chopping and changing, enabling firms and skills providers to invest and build new opportunities at local level.”

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