Apprenticeships: Vacancies drop but applications rise ahead of the levy

Apprenticeship vacancies have fallen by a fifth while applications have increased by a third, according to new government statistics

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The number of apprenticeship vacancies being advertised has dropped by more than 20 per cent, with providers believing that employers are holding back on recruitment in the run-up to the introduction of the apprenticeship levy.

Data published by the government last week showed that 50,070 apprenticeship vacancies were posted on the Recruit an Apprentice website, which allows training providers to post vacancies and manage applications, in the three months from August to October 2016. This compared with 62,880 in the same period the previous year, and it is the first time the figure has dropped in this quarter for eight years.

However, the figures also reveal that the number of applications has increased by 35 per cent from last year, from 425,020 in the first quarter of 2015-16 to 575,610 in the equivalent period in 2016-17. Of these, there was an increase of more than 100,000 in the applications from 16- to 18-year-olds.

According to the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), the drop in vacancies posted could be down to the forthcoming introduction of the levy in April, which will change the way apprenticeships are funded. While currently, for example, employers have to fund a third of the cost of the Trailblazer apprenticeships, from April levy payers will receive a 10 per cent top-up on their levy contribution to fund apprenticeships, and non-levy paying employers will be expected to pay 10 per cent of the cost of an apprenticeship.  

'Hopefully numbers will recover'

AELP chief executive Mark Dawe told TES that providers were reporting a lag in recruitment because of the difference between current funding arrangements and the ones coming into effect in May. 

“It’s particularly hard to persuade a finance director to sign off vacancies under the new standards now, when the 33 per cent employer contribution is soon to disappear," he said. "While we still have over half a million young people unemployed, the lag is very unfortunate but most would agree that the new funding regime is more attractive than the Trailblazer one so hopefully numbers overall will recover.”

Mr Dawe added that providers were waiting to hear if they had secured a contract from the Skills Funding Agency to deliver apprenticeships to non-levy payers. Uncertainty was also being created by providers having to wait to learn whether they have been approved for the new register of providers. "All of this is creating uncertainty and a reluctance on the part of some to take the risk of recruiting," he added.

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