New figures show that fewer young people are starting apprenticeships, prompting fears the scheme is failing to meet its key aim of tackling youth unemployment.
Statistics published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) show a drop in the number of under-25s embarking on apprenticeships in the last year. At the same time, the number of over-60s taking apprenticeships has risen sharply, with Labour claiming the programme is being used to “re-badge” existing jobs.
The BIS figures show the overall number of apprenticeship starts fell in 2013/14 for the second successive year. Among under-25s, the number of new enrolments fell by 1,000 on 2012/13 and has slumped by almost 12,000 in two years.
The drop comes despite government incentives to firms providing apprenticeships for 16 to 24-year-olds.
Grants of £1,500 were on offer for companies with up to 1,000 employees, although from this month the awards are limited to firms with 50 staff or fewer, who can apply for a maximum of five grants, as opposed to 10 previously.
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said the figures showed that apprenticeships were not being used to tackle youth unemployment.
“To grow the number of high-skilled, better-paid jobs we need more apprenticeship opportunities – particularly for our young people,” he said.
“But despite David Cameron’s claims, we are seeing the number of apprenticeships falling and worrying there’s been a significant drop in apprenticeship starts for young people.”
Figures released earlier this year showed the number of over-60s starting apprenticeships had risen by 715 per cent since 2009/10, while among those aged 45-59 it had risen by 522 per cent and by 374 per cent for 35-44-year-olds.
Employees aged 25-44 now account for one in three apprenticeship starts, up from one in seven in 2009/10.
Labour claimed that many of the 25-plus age group were already working for their employer before starting their apprenticeship. This “tarnished” the scheme, with training for employees already in work being “re-badged” under the apprenticeship label, Mr Umunna said.
A BIS spokesman said government reforms has focused on improving the standard of the training on offer and may have led to a drop in the number of new starts.
“Our insistence on quality apprenticeships has had a short term impact on numbers but we expect these to bounce back soon,” he said.
Three-quarters of students not told about apprenticeships by their schools - 22 October, 2014
Proposed apprenticeship reforms could 'endanger' progress, employers warn - 20 February, 2014