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‘Pitiful’ figures cast doubt over apprenticeship target

Poor take-up of traineeships could scupper plans to help millions, claims MP

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The government’s ambitious plans to expand the apprenticeship programme could be thwarted by the “pitiful” take-up of traineeships, the shadow FE and skills minister has warned.

Traineeships were introduced in 2013 to equip young people with the skills required to progress into an apprenticeship or employment. However, recent statistics from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) suggest that the government has found it difficult to grow the programme. The number of traineeship starts in 2014-15 was 19,400, compared with 499,900 apprenticeship starts in the same period.

And new figures reveal that the number of traineeship vacancies advertised on the official apprenticeships website has dropped by 9 per cent, from 2,300 between August and October 2014 to 2,100 in the same period 12 months on. In contrast, the number of traineeship applicants actually rose in 2015-2016.

Last week, the government announced new measures to allow more providers to offer traineeships, which it claimed had made an “excellent start”.

Previously, only providers rated good or outstanding by Ofsted were eligible, but that restriction will be removed in August 2016. A new campaign to promote traineeships and apprenticeships were also unveiled. But Labour’s shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden told TES that a lack of awareness about traineeships was a major factor behind the low number of learners on the scheme.

“They were not well understood so take-up has been rather pitiful,” he said. “I am not surprised at the figures because how they introduced it was completely cock-eyed.

“They were originally set up to allow young people to step up to high-quality apprenticeships, but the government introduced them and gave them no marketing. There seems to be a blurring of clarity over what it is the scheme actually does.”

Stewart Segal, the chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said that it was vital to expand the traineeship scheme to help prepare young people for apprenticeship-level training.

“Quite a lot of young people are still coming out of school without the work-related skills to take on an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship is a job and quite a lot of those young people need the experience first,” he added.

The concerns have been raised after the government published its apprenticeship strategy last week, with plans for a statutory target for the public sector to deliver “its fair share of apprenticeships”.

English Apprenticeships: our 2020 vision also sets out the government’s wider plans for reaching its target of 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, which includes the introduction of the apprenticeship levy.

Mr Segal said “greater effort” was needed to promote apprenticeships. “In the last couple of years we have increased the age of participation and therefore we need to make sure young people know they have an opportunity to go into an apprenticeship and that they now get better careers advice,” he said.

Figures published by BIS earlier this month show that the number of apprenticeship vacancies has increased significantly in the first quarter of 2015-16, compared with the same period in the previous year. However, the number of applicants for apprenticeship posts has not risen at the same rate – meaning that there are now significantly fewer applicants per vacancy than last year.

A City and Guilds spokeswoman said that initial funding and levy investment were “a good start” in increasing apprenticeships, but added: “The main worry is that the desire to hit targets and count all things as apprenticeships could overtake the need to maintain the quality of what an effective apprenticeship means.”

A spokesman for BIS said that not all traineeships were advertised on the official apprenticeships website, and insisted that they were “at the heart of the government’s drive to tackle youth unemployment”.

“Hundreds of major employers, such as Jaguar Land Rover, Virgin Media and the BBC, are already delivering traineeships, as well as smaller employers locally,” he added.

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