Apprenticeship ‘starts’ fall by a quarter

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The number of people starting apprenticeships has fallen by 26% since the Government’s reforms to the apprenticeship system, according to a report from the National Audit Office (NAO).

In April 2017, the Department for Education (DfE) introduced several changes to the apprenticeships scheme, including a levy on large employers and a co-funding requirement from smaller firms.

The changes were intended to improve the quality of apprenticeships and meet employers’ needs, but instead seem to have caused participation in the scheme to decrease “substantially”.

In the 2017/18 academic year, there were 375,800 new apprenticeship ‘starts’ – down from 509,400 in 2015/16.

This would need to double for the Government to achieve its target of three million new starts by March 2020.

The report also shows a low take-up of apprenticeship levy funds among businesses, with levy-paying employers using only 9% of the funds available to them in 2017/18.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said:

“Despite making changes to the apprenticeships programme, the DfE has not enticed employers to use available funds or encouraged enough potential recruits to start an apprenticeship.

“It has much more to do to meet its ambitions. If the DfE is serious about boosting the country’s productivity, it needs to set out clearly whether its efforts are on track to meet that aim.”

The public spending watchdog’s findings prompted the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to lead calls for a “second wave of reform” to the under-fire apprenticeships system.

Matthew Fell, chief UK policy director at the CBI, said:

“The apprenticeship levy is not yet working as intended and is holding back the Government’s welcome efforts to modernise the skills system.

“Companies are committed to apprenticeships, so what’s needed now is a second wave of reform.

“The Government must use its review of the apprenticeship levy to work with business and the sector to build a system that supports, rather than frustrates, employers offering a first step to people in their career.’’

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