Analysis released today (9 February) by apprenticeship initiative London Progression Collaboration (LPC) showed apprenticeship priorities have shifted over the past six years.
While the number of entry-level intermediate apprenticeship starts (targeted at school leavers) has plummeted, the number of ‘higher-level' apprenticeship starts has soared by 400%.
Higher-level apprenticeships are the equivalent of a foundation degree and are aimed at those with existing qualifications or already in employment.
Anna Ambrose, director of the LPC, told HR magazine that the change is due to government policy.
She said: “These startling findings reinforce the picture that has become clear over recent years – that the fall in apprenticeship starts has disproportionately hit young people, those with low levels of prior qualification and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Entry-level apprenticeship starts have fallen partly by design on the part of government, with popular entry-level apprenticeships removed in the transition to employer-led apprenticeship standards.
“The fall is also the result of the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017.”
Before the Levy’s introduction, the number of entry-level apprenticeships remained relatively steady, at around 500,000.
Since 2017, however, the number of these intermediate apprenticeships has fallen dramatically year on year, with just 185,400 participating in the 2020/21 academic year.
Ambrose added: “Whilst the policy has had some undoubted successes, such as building the level of apprenticeships expertise within many large businesses and growing their apprenticeship offer, it has also prompted a shift towards large businesses offering more costly higher-level apprenticeships.”
Higher-level apprenticeships commonly go to older, better-qualified employees.
Lizzie Crowley, senior skills advisor at the CIPD, told HR magazine that young people are being let down.
“The apprenticeship system as it currently stands is failing to function as a strong pathway into the labour market for young people.
“Increasingly apprenticeships go to those aged over 25 and to existing employees, and the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy has only served to intensify this long-run trend, with many employers now concentrating their investment on professional and managerial apprenticeships.”
The CIPD, and other campaigners including the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), have been calling for an Apprenticeship Levy reform based on its perceived failures.
Proposed reforms include an increase in flexible training.
By doing so, Crowely added, the government could enable employers to develop their staff through other forms of accredited training, which would prove both cheaper and more effective, and free up funds for young peoples’ apprenticeships.
Alan Price, however, CEO of BrightHR, told HR magazine that employers need not be overly concerned by the falling numbers of young apprentices.
He said: “Age should never be a barrier to opportunity.
“Apprenticeships are only one way of securing skilled talent for businesses; employers may need to look more at non-traditional ways of finding and retaining the best people to take the business forward.”
These might include offering refresher training, or internal career changes within the organisation, he added.
“We can imagine that apprenticeships will still be available for many years to come and will remain enticing for employers due to the legal wage structure allowing lower rates of pay for younger apprentices.”