New UK Apprenticeships Declined in First Academic Quarter

New UK Apprenticeships Declined in First Academic Quarter

The number of apprenticeships begun in the first quarter of the current academic year in the UK fell by 26.5 percent over the same quarter last year Ashleigh Wight reports at Personnel Today, reflecting the disruption that has been ongoing as employers adjust to the controversial apprenticeship levy introduced last April:

The Department for Education (DfE) said that 114,400 people began an apprenticeship in the first quarter of 2017/18, which was down from 115,600 for the same period last year. The DfE suggested that the introduction of the levy would have an effect on apprenticeship take-up as the new approach beds in. A total of 67,200 levy-supported apprenticeships have begun so far, of which 41,600 started in the first part of 2017/18.

Supporters of the levy say these anticipated declines are merely growing pains and that apprenticeships will bounce back as employers become familiar with the law. Critics, however, say the new system is unworkable for many employers:

Seamus Nevin, head of policy research at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said the new system had failed to take off as it was difficult to navigate. He said: “Apprenticeships are a fantastic type of training for someone new to a job – and it is great to see there was an increase in the number of higher level apprenticeships this year – but employers have made it clear that this type of training is not always the most appropriate way of helping to up-skill someone already in work.” …

Nevin claimed that 11% of mostly smaller IoD members were having to write the levy off as a tax because apprenticeships were too expensive for them.

New apprenticeships also declined in the final quarter of 2016-2017 academic year, by as much as 59 percent in England, where they fell to 48,000 in May–July 2017 from 117,800 in the same period of the previous year.

A survey released by the CIPD earlier this month found nearly half of employers saying they planned to merely rebrand their existing training programs as apprenticeships in order to access levy funds, while a slight majority said they would prefer a more flexible training levy. Nearly one in five employers subject to the levy said they did not expect to take advantage of it and were instead writing off the levy as a tax. Official figures released last October showed that only half of all eligible companies were using their allowances.

Levy critics have cited its lack of flexibility, insufficient awareness among employers, and an overly complicated system as weaknesses discouraging stronger take-up of these funds.