Apprenticeships: Modest rise in quarterly starts

But figures still down from before the apprenticeship levy was introduced, new Department for Education figures reveal

Julia Belgutay

Should the apprenticeships system be more geared towards younger people learning lower-level skills?

The number of apprenticeship starts in the first quarter of 2018-19 was up on last year - but still significantly lower than before the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April 2017.

A total of 132,000 apprenticeship starts were recorded in the first quarter of the current year, according to new statistics published by the government today. This is an increase of 15.4 per cent on the same quarter in 2017-18, but a decrease of 15.2 per cent compared to the same period of 2016-17.

Of those 132,000 starts , 23,100 were at higher level – and increase of almost 100 per cent compared to 2017-18. Around 51,100 were at intermediate level and 57,800 were at advanced level.

Levy supported starts

A total of 268,500 levy-supported starts have been recorded since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, the statistics said – just under half of the total number of starts.  Some 61,400 levy-supported starts were reported in the first quarter of 2018-19 - 46.5 per cent of the total in that period. Of these, 20,200 were intermediate level, 25,800 were advanced level and 15,300 were higher level apprenticeships.

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said the immediate concern was the "tank running dry for non-levy paying employers", if levy funds all ended up being used by the firms paying it.

"Several providers started reporting before Christmas that they were up to the hilt on their Education and Skills Funding Agency contracts and could no longer take the risk of committing to any more starts this year," he added. "This number is growing, which means that for the rest of the year with no more money available, smaller businesses will be starved of apprenticeships. It underlines again why a standalone £1 billion budget is needed for non-levy employers.”

Minister 'thrilled'

Apprenticeships and skills minister Anne Milton said she was "thrilled" by the 15 per cent increase in starts since last year.

"I want as many people as possible to know about the many opportunities out there," she said, adding that the new "Fire It Up" campaign would help tackle "outdated" attitudes to apprenticeships.

But Alan Woods, CEO of awarding body VTCT, said the post-levy drop in take-up was "clearly down to the lack of clarity regarding the implementation of apprenticeship reform". The government should back businesses in promoting level 2 apprenticeships to young people "as they start their careers", he added.

Kirstie Donnelly MBE, managing director at City & Guilds Group, said while it was encouraging to see an uplift in apprenticeship starts in Q1 of the 2018-2019 academic year, compared to the same period in 2017-2018, the organisation was "unsurprised to see that these latest figures from the Department for Education show a continued trend in low apprenticeship take-up since the introduction of the levy – which needs to be remedied". 

"At City & Guilds Group we believe that apprenticeships have huge potential to help employers fill critical skills gaps and strengthen the wider economy. With the current climate of socioeconomic uncertainty affecting UK businesses, it’s never been more urgent to improve the skills of our workforce and invest in training and retaining the talent that we already have.

 She added: “However, our recent ‘Flex for Success?’ research shows that the government is not moving fast enough to address employers’ concerns around apprenticeships. 93 per cent of levy-paying businesses cite some form of barrier preventing them from investing in apprenticeships, while 92 per cent are demanding greater flexibility in how they spend their allowance. Businesses are waiting for the employer consultation on apprenticeships, which the chancellor announced in the Autumn Budget, however we understand that this consultation won’t take place until 2020, which is far too late."

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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