Political parties lay out plans for apprenticeships prior to election

With the upcoming general election on 4 July, there’s a lot of talk about how apprenticeships and skills training might change.  

The bigger picture 

Training and education funding has dropped over the years, and fewer adults are taking further education courses. The number of apprenticeships completed has also decreased, with only about 55% of apprentices in England finishing their programmes last year. There are currently around 752,200 apprentices in England, which is an improvement since the pandemic, but still lower than in previous years. 

Many who drop out of apprenticeship programmes do so for personal reasons, but many leave simply because the apprenticeship didn’t meet their expectations.  

Labour’s plans for the apprenticeship levy 

The Labour party recently unveiled its plans, which include offering businesses more flexibility in how they use their apprenticeship levy.  

READ: What is the apprenticeship levy, and why is it important? 

Currently, the apprenticeship levy is used to train new apprentices. However, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson outlined the plans: in future, firms could tackle their skills gaps by spending up to half of their levy on training their existing employees in advanced skills. So, a construction firm might train a current employee in retrofitting, for example, rather than hiring a new apprentice recruit. 

They also want to allow businesses to use the funds for “pre-apprenticeship training” to help people get ready for full apprenticeships or jobs.  

Labour emphasised that at least 50% of the funds would still go to traditional apprenticeships, but it would be called a ‘growth and skills levy’.  

Labour believes this plan could empower businesses to create 150,000 new training opportunities for young people. 

The Conservatives plan to expand apprenticeships 

The Conservatives argue that Labour’s plan could reduce the number of apprenticeships and hurt small businesses, calling it “ill thought through”.  

The Conservative Party election manifesto promises to create 100,000 apprenticeships by 2029 . 

At the end of last month, they pledged to cut 130,000 ‘low-quality’ higher education places to free up money for funding more apprenticeships. 

What’s everyone else saying? 

Right now, many companies aren’t taking advantage of their apprenticeship levy, and most apprenticeships are going to older employees instead of young people. So, the Liberal Democrats have put forward a different idea: they want to give every adult a pot of money to spend on education and retraining throughout their working life instead. 

Other parties such as the Green Party and Reform UK have not explicitly mentioned apprenticeships in their manifesto. Many have instead chosen to focus on making changes to the country’s university system. 

What’s next? 

Whether a more flexible approach or focused investment will work better is up for debate. The key takeaway is that whichever party wins will need to ensure businesses are on board and that training programmes meet the needs of young people entering the workforce. 

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