Apprenticeship starts still below previous highs

Apprenticeship starts for the 2017/18 academic year remain much lower than previously reported, with the levy continuing to influence employer decision making.

According to the Department for Education’s (DfE) latest statistics, there were 261,200 apprenticeship starts between August 2017 and March 2018 for the 2017/18 academic year.

This compares to 362,400 and 346,300 starts reported in the equivalent periods in 2016/17 and 2015/16, respectively.

There were 232,700 apprenticeship starts over the seven months to February 2018, according to the DfE’s previous report.

The introduction of the levy, which sees employers with annual wage bills of £3 million or more pay 0.5% per month into a government pot that is topped up with public funds and redistributed to fund apprenticeships, significantly changed the profile of apprenticeship starts, the DfE argues.

“The profile of apprenticeship starts changed significantly in the run up to the introduction of the levy and beyond, therefore care should be taken when comparing individual months with previous years as they are unlikely to provide a meaningful year on year trend.”

“This is especially the case when trying to compare starts in March 2018 to starts in March 2017, as there was an unusually large increase in starts in March (and April) 2017 ahead of the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, and then an unusually large decrease in starts in May 2017 when compared to previous years.”

The City & Guilds Group has called on the government to allow employers more flexibility in how the apprenticeship levy is spent.

Kirstie Donnelly MBE, managing director of City & Guilds and ILM, said: “We are fully supportive of the new apprenticeship system as a tool to enable career progression at all levels and to help employers fill skills gaps and shortages. And of course, we must not write-off a new system with so much potential before it has had the chance to get established. However, we equally cannot ignore the signs that the system as it is currently structured clearly isn’t working for many employers.”

“We believe more must be done by government now to inject some momentum back into apprenticeships and build confidence in a skills system that provides high-quality technical pathways and creates a better-skilled workforce. We have heard from employers and employer bodies that they would welcome increased flexibility in how the apprenticeship levy is used. It is critical that Government listens to their voices now if the system is to succeed in the future.”

“We believe that unless steps are taken to directly address this issue now, we will never be able to reduce the skills gaps and skills shortages faced by so many UK industries.”

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