Apprenticeships starts are down. Not by a little, but by a lot.

 

Latest figures released by the Department for Education shows the number of people starting apprenticeships has fallen by 61% since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy.

When the government introduced the Apprenticeship Levy back in April, with a view to creating three million apprenticeships by 2020, it felt like a stretch target.

At the time, there weren’t many who denied the value of apprenticeships. Yet what worried the pessimists amongst us, was that many employers would see the levy as another tax – and not use their levy funds for apprenticeship training.

Prior to the introduction of the levy, there was an increase in apprenticeships from 118,000 in February to April 2016 to 174,100 in that same time period in 2017. Was this a rush to recruit apprentices before the levy came into play? Anecdotally, this could be a logical assumption. For in 2016 between May and July the figures for new start apprentices stood at 113,000. This year the figures for May to July, saw this figure fall to 43,600. And that’s a 61% drop.

Evidently, these figures are pretty damning. And many industry figureheads are expressing their concern.

Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute, said the data showed “worrying signs”. Neil Carberry, CBI managing director for people policy, said: “This disappointing data will come as no surprise to companies, who have repeatedly made clear that the current design of the apprenticeship levy system is not effective.” And Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “Sadly, we saw these numbers coming long before the levy even started because of the way the new funding system has been designed.”

However, they’re also being pragmatic. A new levy, means new processes and protocols. Inevitably things take time to work through and businesses have to adapt. So whilst the first three months’ results are definitely not good, it’s a bit early to jump to any definitive conclusions.

Stephen Evans, chief executive of Learning and Work Institute also said "It's too early to tell if this is teething problems, a more permanent problem, or the result of apprenticeship starts being brought in before the levy's introduction. Our concerns over quality and access remain, there's still time to address these so we have a world-class apprenticeship system."

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “Until we see the September starts, we don’t know whether the 3 million target is under threat but the numerical target isn’t really important here.  What is needed are changes that will restore incentives for employers to recruit young apprentices and a guaranteed minimum budget for non-levy payers’ apprenticeships which will ensure that there are opportunities in the many areas of the country without large employers.”  And Neil Carberry, CBI managing director for people policy, said: “Businesses believe in apprenticeships but there can be no argument now -  reform of the levy system is needed urgently to ensure its success.”

So, in short, whilst they’re concerned, it’s more a question of reform as opposed to doing away with apprenticeships in their entirety. It’s about picking through the detail. And ensuring that these apprenticeships are accessible to all.

And on October 24th 2017, The Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, Anne Milton, has announced a series of appointments to encourage people from all ages and backgrounds to consider an apprenticeship. But amongst the new appointees, there’s also a nod to delivery. There are three new MP Apprenticeship Ambassadors – Maria Caulfield MP, Stephen Metcalfe MP, Trudy Harrison MP (who has also been appointed as the Co-Chair of the Apprenticeship Delivery Board). Whilst Helen Grant MP has replaced Nus Ghani MP as the Chair of the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network and Dominique Unsworth has been appointed as an SME Ambassador.

Anne Milton said, “All the reforms we have introduced will make sure that there are high quality apprenticeship opportunities for millions of people of all ages and from all backgrounds. We want everyone to have the skills to get a job with prospects, and for employers to have the skilled workforce they need. Since May 2015 we have seen over 1.1million apprenticeship starts.

Although we have seen record numbers with a disability or from disadvantaged backgrounds start an apprenticeship, there is still more to do. I am delighted to confirm today’s appointments to the vital roles that will work to ensure apprenticeships are truly open to everyone.”

Whether these appointments were ‘part of the plan’ or not (or a direct result of the recent apprenticeship starts statistics), is almost by-the-by. What’s clear is that the media spotlight will continue to scrutinise the stats in the forthcoming months. And we wouldn’t be surprised if this is the cause of a few sleepless nights for Anne Milton and her new team, as the stats reveal what is exactly what.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

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