Apprenticeships: five things we've learned from new Bis statistics

Stephen Exley

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"More people than ever are doing an apprenticeship," announced the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis) today as it unveiled its latest statistical first release.

The figures reveal that a record 872,000 people were employed on government-funded apprenticeships during the 2014-15 academic year. But what else do they tell us?

  1. Apprenticeships are back in business
    The overall number of apprenticeship starts in 2014-15 was 492,700 – up by more than 50,000 from the year before, signalling a reversal of the fall recorded in the previous year’s figures.
  2. Most apprentices are adults
    The low proportion of apprentices under the age of 19 has been one of the main criticisms of the government’s flagship training programme in recent years. Of the apprenticeship starts in 2014-15, just 124,400 – a quarter of the total – were 16-18s. This is a slightly lower proportion than in 2013-14. The new figures show only a modest rise of 4,600 among 16-18 apprentices. At the same time, the number of 25-plus apprenticeship starts increased by 52,400, with their proportion among overall cohort increasing from 36 per cent in 2013-14 to 42 per cent a year later. This will do little to alleviate concerns that the programme is failing to make inroads into youth unemployment.
  3. Higher apprenticeships are small but growing
    Higher apprenticeships are currently all the rage. A report due to be published imminently by the Policy Exchange thinktank is expected to stress their importance to the British economy in upskilling the workforce. Separate research released last week by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust finds that higher apprentices go on to earn more than the majority of graduates, but bemoans the low numbers taking these qualifications. The BIS press release published with the new statistics is quick to note the “strong growth” in these qualifications designed to deliver the “high value skills British businesses need”, with 19,300 traineeship starts, more than double the 9,200 recorded in the previous academic year. While this marks clear growth, this is from a low starting point. Even with the sizeable increase, just 4 per cent of apprenticeship starts were at a higher level in 2014-15.
  4. There are fewer learners in FE
    For the second successive year, the overall number of learners taking all types of qualifications dropped significantly. The provisional total now stands at 2,602,800 – down by more than 326,000 (11 per cent) from 2013-14.
  5. Traineeships are on the rise
    The number of traineeships starts almost doubled in 2014-15 to 19,200. In 2013-14, the first year of the programme, there were just 10,400. But just because more people are taking the flagship back-to-work training programme, this doesn’t mean they are benefiting from it, as the figures also make clear. Of the 2014-15 cohort, 11,100 (57 per cent) completed the programme, while just 6,200 (32 per cent) progressed to a job, apprenticeship or further education or training.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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