The Government's ambitious expansion of the apprenticeship programme could be thwarted by waning interest among employers, a new report warns.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has predicted that the level of apprentice recruitment will fall next year, in spite of the Government's ambitions to create a record 430,000 apprenticeships over the next four years.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has insisted it is on track to meet its target of recruiting 50,000 extra apprentices this year, and last month chancellor George Osborne's budget included plans for an additional 50,000 apprenticeships on top of the numbers previously announced.
Forty-five per cent of businesses surveyed by the CIPD said they had offered apprentice places over the past three years, but only 35 per cent said they intended to recruit further apprentices over the next 12 months.
Forty-three per cent of respondents said they would definitely not recruit apprentices and 22 per cent said they were yet to decide.
Two-thirds of the companies not offering apprenticeships told the CIPD this was because they were "not appropriate" for their organisation.
"This may well be based on outdated perceptions that apprenticeships are only for dying heavy engineering and craft employment, but it may also reflect a sophisticated understanding of the skills mix that employers require to deliver their objectives," the report said.
It also found 44 per cent of firms would not be hiring apprentices due to recruitment freezes.
In the manufacturing and production sector, traditionally popular with apprentices, interest appears to be dropping most sharply, with the proportion of firms taking on apprentices decreasing from 68 per cent over the past three years to just 45 per cent in the year ahead.
The CIPD said that increased funding from the Government was needed to encourage more firms to hire.
"Nearly half of respondents (48 per cent) report that more generous public funding of apprenticeships would encourage their organisation to create new or additional places," the report said.
Association of Learning Providers chief executive Graham Hoyle acknowledged that, after "massive growth" in apprenticeships over the past 18 months, recruitment is "getting tighter" due to the "underlying economic situation".
He added many businesses were ignorant of apprenticeships' "direct and immediate benefits", and called for a more visible advertising campaign to back up the Government's targets.
The institute also warned that too many apprenticeships were low-level qualifications that did nothing to meet the UK's shortage of advanced technical skills. Just 17 per cent of apprenticeships offered are at level 6 or higher, the study found.
"Given the UK skills needs in the global economy and the increasing requirement for scientific and technical skills, this needs to be urgently addressed," it said.
The CIPD called for the funding, allocation and delivery of apprenticeships to be "simplified" and said, while apprentices are rated highly for their enthusiasm, work ethic and presentation, employers were less impressed with their creativity, innovation, initiative and customer- service skills.
Skills minister John Hayes said: "We are committed to building an apprenticeship programme that meets the needs of every sector for skilled recruits, including at higher levels.
"That is why this Government is creating a genuine ladder of progression, so that apprentices can climb from level 2 training up to level 4 skills and above.
"This Government will deliver at least 250,000 more apprenticeships over the next four years, compared to the previous government's plans."
43% - Proportion of CIPD respondents who said they would definitely not recruit apprentices.