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Conservatives pledge 100,000 new apprenticeships

Half (54.6%) of apprentices passed their final assessment in 2022-23, which is less than the 67% government target

The Conservative party has promised to replace ‘rip-off’ university degrees with 100,000 apprenticeships. 

The party's spokesperson said that that it will prioritise funding apprenticeships over the worst performing degrees, which would be scrapped for having high drop-out rates, low job progression and decreased future earnings potential.

The announcement was made ahead of the next UK general election (4 July).

Jeremy Hay-Campbell, policy and corporate affairs director for the recruitment firm ManpowerGroup UK, told HR magazine that the reforms would not go far enough to encourage employers to take on apprentices.

He said: "Cutting degree courses alone won’t make employers hire more apprentices. Employers will only take on apprentices if it makes sense for their business, and if they can see how the system is working for them.

"The number of apprenticeships has been dropping, for both starts and completions, which is concerning.

"Although the state of the economy is a factor, we’re hearing that many businesses are reluctant to participate in apprenticeship programmes because they simply don’t suit their demands. Some don’t understand how the system works."

Apprenticeship starts have fallen by 31% in England since the apprenticeship levy was introduced in 2017, according to data from the CIPD.

Read more: New apprenticeships funding won't go far enough, says HR

Hay-Campbell added that, rather than creating more placements, apprenticeships should be reformed to meet employer demand.

He continued: "We need training that's more responsive to employer demand, with shorter courses and modules, especially in areas with skills shortages such as logistics and the green sector.

"Employers also need flexibility to use the [apprenticeship] levy in different ways; for example, for more tailored, intensive training programmes that helps them build the skills they need now. Employers should not be tied to only courses lasting at least 12 months."

James McLaughlin, vice president of social impact firm WithYouWithMe, commented that further reforms could be made to the apprenticeship levy to improve apprenticeship programmes.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: "Reforming the apprenticeship levy to allow more flexibility in how funds are used could significantly improve the effectiveness of apprenticeship programmes.

"This is because employers could use funds for a broader range of training and development activities, effectively addressing skills gaps within industries."

The apprenticeship levy was introduced in 2017 to create 600,000 new apprenticeships a year. However, research by the CIPD in October 2023 showed that apprenticeships fell by 31% since the levy's introduction.

From 6 April 2024, the amount of funding that companies can pass on to other businesses increased from 25% of unspent funds to 50%. Prime minister Rishi Sunak also pledged (18 March) to invest £60 million in apprenticeships over the next year, which HR leaders criticised as not going far enough to boost take up of apprenticeships.

Read more: Apprenticeships have plummeted since levy introduced

McLaughlin added that employers need more incentives and education to make use of the apprenticeship system.

He said: "There are more options available to enhance apprenticeship programmes. One example would be providing additional financial incentives to small businesses so that they can increase their capacity to offer apprenticeships.

"Further, improving businesses’ access to the resources and information necessary to navigate the apprenticeship system could maximise engagement and success rates."

Over half (54.6%) of apprentices passed their final assessment in 2022-23, which is below the government's target of 67% by the end of 2024/25.