It’s well established that, following the much-vaunted launch of the apprenticeship levy in 2017, the number of apprenticeship starts dropped significantly. Even though numbers subsequently recovered to some extent, the government was forced to abandon its target of creating 3 million apprenticeships between 2015 and 2020.
But where have things improved? And in what parts of the country has the decline in the take-up of apprenticeships been most pronounced? A new report by academics from London Economics and the University of Sheffield, shared exclusively with Tes, has dug into official data to find out.
The impact of apprenticeships
Between 2016-17 and 2017-18, the number of apprenticeship starts at all levels declined for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), while for large enterprises there was a slight increase in the number of starts at advanced level – and an 84 per cent rise of those at higher level In terms of overall numbers. What this means is that large employers (of 250 people or more) were responsible for 199,000 apprenticeship starts in 2017-18, while medium (50-249 employees) and small enterprises (up to 50) accounted for 45,000 and 111,000 starts respectively.
As the report puts it, the number of apprenticeships in SMEs “increased moderately, but steadily, between 2010-11 and 2015-16” then “declined sharply between 2016-17 and 2017-18" (by 34 per cent in the case of small enterprises and by 42 cent in the case of medium-sized enterprises). In contrast, “starts in large enterprises have declined less severely (by 9 per cent), following the introduction of the levy, from around 218,000 to 199,000 (between 2016-17 and 2017-18)”.
North versus South
In 2017-18, the largest concentration of apprenticeship starts was in the North West (59,000, or 16 per cent of the total), followed by the South East (14 per cent) and Yorkshire and the Humber (12 per cent). In contrast, only 22,000 (6 per cent) of apprenticeship starts were in the North East. However, the latter was the region with the highest intensity of apprenticeship activity, with approximately 20 apprenticeship starts per 1,000 people in employment in the region, ahead of Yorkshire and the Humber (18 starts per 1,000) and the North West (17 starts per 1,000). The lowest intensity was found in London, with only 7 apprenticeship starts per 1,000 in employment in 2017-18.
However, London did record the largest increase in higher-level apprenticeships, up by 59 per cent between 2016-17 and 2017-18, closely followed by the East of England (up 58.3 per cent). “These regions were also characterised by a larger proportion of higher apprenticeships among all apprenticeship starts in 2017-18 (21 per cent and 14 per cent respectively) compared to all other regions," the report adds.