The number of people starting apprenticeships in England declined by 59 percent in the final quarter of the academic year, May–July 2017, to 48,000 from 117,800 in the same quarter of last year, Rob Moss reports at Personnel Today based on new figures from the UK Department for Education. While not unexpected, the decline underlines the rocky start that has befallen the UK government’s controversial apprenticeship levy scheme, which went into effect in April. Both union and industry leaders suggest to Moss that the levy has been making apprenticeships more difficult to organize:
In the lowest level training schemes, intermediate apprenticeships, the number of starts fell by 75%. Tony Burke, assistant general secretary at Unite, said the trade union had concerns about the lowest grade of apprenticeships and whether these were beneficial. He added that there was “a great deal of frustration” with the new scheme. “Some businesses view this as a disaster. The levy has made things more complex so they are not taking apprentices on,” Burke said.
Verity Davidge, head of education and skills policy at manufacturers’ group the EEF, said the figures were “frankly unsurprising”. “We continue to hear stories from companies who have hit a brick wall in trying to get levy-supported apprenticeships off the ground,” she said.
The apprenticeship levy has been beset by problems since its rollout, with a report in October finding that only half of the UK businesses eligible for funding through the levy were taking advantage of it. This slow uptake has been attributed to a lack of flexibility in how the scheme defines apprentices, as well as a lack of awareness of how to use the program, and a tendency of employers to rebrand existing training programs as apprenticeships.
With these latest dismal statistics, industry experts are asking the government to abandon its ambitious goal of creating three million new apprenticeships by 2020, Emily Burt reports at People Management, as employers are having a hard time taking advantage of the benefits the levy is meant to offer them:
The mood among many levy-paying employers has remained combative since the introduction of the new system, with reports that some had worked with providers to ‘fiddle the costs’ of training or offset some of their costs against existing training. At a conference in October, angry delegates slammed the 20 per cent off-the-job training requirements of the levy, describing the measure as ‘frankly impossible’ to achieve. And there have also been ongoing problems with the administrative details of some apprenticeship schemes – this week, The Sunday Times reported that more than 900 would-be apprentices for a new MBA scheme were being prevented from starting their courses because standards had not been agreed.