The Government’s apprenticeship recruitment target of 203,200 for the financial year to March 2011 was exceeded by 54,000, John Hayes, Minister for FE, announced last week.

Particularly striking has been the volume of those apprentices aged 25 and over who started in the first three quarters of this academic year (August 2010 to April 2011).  Provisional data published by the BIS Data Service shows that these starts have increased by 234 per cent to 121,100. So far this year 37 per cent of all starts have been for the 25+ age group (17 per cent for the same period last year). Further analysis of the published figures shows that 33,750 starts (up from 9,810 last year) are for people aged 45-59 (now 10 per cent of all starts, up from 4 per cent last year), and 2,930 aged 60+ (400 last year).

Gordon Marsden MP, Shadow Minister for FE and skills told FE Week; “These figures show the largest increase coming in the post 25 category – most dramatically in 35-59. This must raise questions of how much that increase is simply transfers from Train to Gain, or people already in employment.”

Professor Alison Wolf, an advisor to Government on 14-19 vocational learning told FE Week: “Providers have been saying for some time that, if they are going to make their apprenticeship targets fast, it will be by targeting adults. The recent figures bear this out, which is bad news for youth unemployment.”

Marsden agrees, he said: “What we do know is that the modest increase in the 16-18 cohort won’t be enough to address the deepening crisis around youth unemployment.

“What’s more, if these numbers have been swelled through transfers from Train to Gain, could they also be subject to the same deadweight questions that Train to Gain attracted?”

The employment sectors seeing the greatest number of additional apprenticeship starts, according to the BIS Data Service, have occurred in framework areas that might not be considered ‘traditional’ apprenticeship, such as retail. For more on this see the Morrisons story.

The Guardian has since reported on the issue and you can see our update here.