The rise in adult apprenticeships has continued to accelerate in the first three months of the new academic year, while the number of starts aged between 16 and 18 has dropped, new data has shown.

Provisional figures, published by the Data Service in the Statistical First Release (SFR) last week, show that the number of new apprentices aged 25 and above has risen to 53,300 in the first quarter of 2011/12, up from 27,600 in the same period last year.

Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for further education, skills and regional growth, says the figures show a disregard for the widening gap in apprenticeship volumes.

“Officials disregarded the imbalance of post-25 and said never mind the quality, fill the width,” Mr Marsden said.

“You can’t turn these things around overnight and they‘ve recognised now that they do need to do more of the 16 to 24.”

A spokesperson at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) says it is “not possible” to compare the provisional figures with data from 2010/11.

“Provisional data for the first quarter of the 2011/12 academic year (August 2011 to October 2011) provide an early view of performance and will change as further data returns are received from further education colleges and providers,” the spokesperson said.

“Quarterly figures for 2011/12 will be updated throughout the year and will be finalised in the January 2013 Statistical First Release. It is not possible, therefore, to directly compare provisional data for the first quarter of the 2011/12 academic year with data from earlier academic years.”

The growing number of adult apprenticeships, shown to be up by 93 per cent in the SFR provisional figures, follow four consecutive quarter increases in 2010/11.

Tess Lanning, research fellow at the IPPR, says the rise in adult apprentices reflects an “increasingly broad definition” of what counts as an apprenticeship
“Over the past decade apprenticeships have become increasingly less likely to offer a route into skilled employment for young people,” she said.

“Instead, the biggest increases have been for adult apprentices, most of which are existing employees, many in low-paid jobs.”

The number of apprenticeship starts aged 16 to 18 dropped by three per cent in the first quarter of 2011/12, down to 53,700, according to provisional statistics in the SFR.

The figures follow record levels of youth unemployment, which has now reached 1.04 million for young people aged 16 to 24, announced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last month.

“What these figures show is that the government was too slow to respond to the crisis in youth unemployment by adjusting the priorities,” Mr Marsden said.

“They were too slow in picking them up and even when they did so, the pick-up in those 16 to 18 and 19 to 24 areas, although it has increased, has not increased anywhere near enough in volume to match the huge increase in post 25.”

A BIS spokesperson said the government would be doing all it could to help young people get back into work.

“The private sector is playing an important role: creating over half a million jobs in the past year – the highest in the G7 countries – and we are in turn supporting business by cutting corporation tax to make the UK the most competitive tax system in the G20 and making an unprecedented investment in apprenticeships,” the spokesperson said.

“It is vital that we do all we can to help young people without work get back into employment with good long term career prospects.”

The total number of new apprenticeships starts hit 457,200 in 2010/11, up 14,500 from provisional figures published in October last year.

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  1. Once again the Skills Funding Agency has put its destructive oar in and made it almost impossible for many providers to deliver some 16-18 apprenticeships. Due to their recent changes in funding criteria some providers have had to close altogether and others have suspended their programmes. Companies which were successfully securing work placements for young people and developing their skills are now having to make staff redundant and turn down young people who want to improve their skills. How can the government be so blind? They say they are concerned over youth employment and now those figures are actually going to grow as a direct result of the SFA’s mismanagement.