The number of under 19 apprenticeships has fallen for the first time in three years — and figures indicate the slide could get worse.

The latest Statistical First Release shows there were 1,800 fewer 16 to 18-year-old apprenticeship starts last year than in 2010/11 – a 1.4 per cent fall.

And provisional figures for the first quarter of the current year show a 7.4 per cent decline on last year already.

FE Minister Matthew Hancock (pictured) told FE Week he was looking at the fall “closely” and said a number of factors could be behind the issue, including the government’s attempt to tackle “poor provision”.

The fall comes amid the backdrop of a boom in the overall number of apprenticeship stats — from 457,200 in 2010/11 to 520,600 last year.

However, the picture for under 19s was 131,700 in 2010/11 versus 129,900 last year.

And, like-for-like provisional figures for the first half of 2011/12 and the current year, were 53,700 versus 49,700, respectively.

It is clearly worrying that the number of 16 to 18-year-old apprentices is down.”

The collapse can be traced back to the second half of 2011/12 when 16 to 18 apprenticeships plummeted 13.48 per cent to 46,200.

However, Mr Hancock said the government was taking action and the planned introduction of traineeships would help the age group.

But he declined to “rule in or rule out” a review of the Coalition’s three-year policy, introduced from 2011/12, of cutting the national funding rate for 16 to 18 apprenticeships by 2 per cent a-year.

“I am looking at the 16 to 18 numbers closely, but they are part of an overall picture of growth in apprenticeships,” said Mr Hancock.

Nevertheless, Shadow FE Minister Gordon Marsden remained critical of the government over the figures.

“The continuing drop is deeply alarming and now appears to be a pattern,” he said.

“The government’s failure so far to have a proper pre-apprenticeship training route is costing young people, not least those in the NEETs [not in education, employment or training] category, dear.”

Association of Colleges assistant chief executive Julian Gravatt said: “It is clearly worrying that the number of 16 to 18-year-old apprentices is down. The reduction in the number of 18-year-olds and the state of the economy have a role, but we will continue to work with government to promote the scheme and develop the new traineeships route.”

Graham Hoyle, Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive, said: “The recession has been a tough for apprenticeship recruitment for under 19s and this is why traineeships are needed to equip school leavers with employability and functional skills.”

A government spokesperson said the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) would be stepping up its marketing campaign to increase job opportunities among young people.

“Our priority is to increase the number of apprenticeship being offered by employers and to improve the readiness of young people who apply and succeed in securing them,” she said.

David Way, chief executive of NAS, said: “Our immediate and continuing focus is on growing apprenticeships at 16 to 18, supported by the apprenticeship grant for employers to recruit a young apprentice and we are putting in place additional measures, including a marketing campaign targeted at employers
and young people.”