The skills system in Wales risks “falling off a cliff” because of funding cuts, according to the body that represents workplace learning providers.
The National Training Federation Wales (NTfW) warned that the country’s employers must invest more into work-based learning and apprenticeships if the system is to survive.
It came after the Welsh government said it would focus apprenticeship funding on “priority groups”, leaving employers to fill the funding gap for over 25s.
NTfW believes this will see funding drop from £105m this year to £74m in 2015/16.
In England, the government is increasingly looking to businesses to help improve the skills system.
The Employer Ownership of Skills pilot project invited employers to bid to a fund to invest in their current and future workforce, and ministers have consulted on how to put apprenticeship funding in the hands of employers.
Now employers in Wales are being urged to do the same.
Speaking at the NTfW’s annual conference at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, chief executive Arwyn Watkins said: “We have to maximise the existing opportunities and start to reduce the level of funding support so that by the end of the journey we are not faced with the skills system in Wales falling off a cliff.”
Julie James, the Welsh government’s deputy minister for skills, told delegates that the current level of government support for apprenticeships was unsustainable given that the Welsh government’s budget has been cut by 10 per cent in real terms since 2010.
Instead, she said, apprenticeship funding would be moved to “priority groups” such as young people and higher apprentices.
“It will be for employers to step up to the plate to help support the learning costs of apprentices who do not fall within Welsh government priority groups,” she added.
Although the government recently secured £2 billion of European Structural funding for the next six years, which will benefit work-based learning programmes, the minister warned it will become increasingly difficult to get funding for non priority groups in future.
Economist professor Brian Morgan told the conference that 40 per cent of Welsh employers are not investing in training, the worst record of all the UK’s countries.
He suggested a levy on companies, similar to that in the construction sector, could be introduced to make employers invest in apprenticeships.
Despite the bad news, the most recent figures show apprenticeships are on the rise in Wales.
Government statistics released in March reveal more than 28,000 people started apprenticeships in Wales in 2012/13, compared to 17,900 in 2011/12 — an increase of more than 56 per cent. At the same time in England, the number of apprenticeship starts fell by 2 per cent, from 520,600 to 510,200.
The overall figure for work-based learning provision in Wales also increased by 14.5 per cent to more than 61,000 unique learners in 2012/13, higher than in any of the previous five years.