Junior Shadow Education Minister Tristram Hunt has called on the government to boost 16 to 18-year-old apprenticeship hopefuls after government figures published for the first time revealed that in the first nine months of 2012/13 there were 788,640  applications and just 86,700 starts (11%).

The figures are based on usage of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) website, where providers must advertise vacancies, and further show that of the total 1.2m total number of applications, 63 per cent came from under 19s.

However, despite the majority of apprenticeship applications being made by those under 19, the age group claimed just 26 per cent of apprenticeship starts in 2012/13.

The figures prompted Labour’s Mr Hunt to urge Education Secretary Michael Gove to pour money into improving young people’s job hopes.

It comes weeks after FE Week reported how Mr Gove’s Department for Education (DfE) had cut its projected budget for 16 to 18 apprenticeships by £165.5m.

The cut came, in part, because of “competition” from older applicants — who are funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), rather than DfE.

“The demand for young apprenticeships is enormous and yet the number of starts is falling off a cliff,” Mr Hunt told FE Week.

“With almost one million young people unemployed, Mr Gove needs to do far more to help businesses and colleges provide the high-quality vocational route we need to rebalance our economy and boost our competitiveness,”

“Instead, he has £165.5m knocking around in his department specifically earmarked for young apprenticeships.

“Why isn’t that money being used to turn applications into starts?”

Last month FE Week reported how the latest Statistical First Release showed 4,000 fewer 16 to 18-year-olds started apprenticeships from February to April (Q3) this year compared to the same period last year — a 19 per cent drop.

Over the nine months leading up to April (up to and including the end of Q3), there was also a 13 per cent drop in starts overall compared with the same period in 2011/12. It followed a 10 per cent drop in Q1 and a 16 per cent drop in Q2.

Stewart Segal, chief executive at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “We are working with a number of providers who are developing programmes to support those young people who have had unsuccessful applications.

“We have always said that we need a preparation programme to provide a supported route to jobs and apprenticeships.

He added: “We hope that a successful launch of traineeships will provide an effective route to increase the numbers of apprenticeships.”

A joint statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and DfE said the Data Service figures gave an “inaccurate picture” of apprenticeship applications because they were only based on employers registered on the NAS website system.

But in order to receive government funding for apprenticeships, providers must register new vacancies on the website (with the exception of apprenticeships taken up by staff already employed by a company), according to Skills Funding Agency rules.

Nevertheless, the statement continued: “Our priority is to make apprenticeships the very best quality, rooting out any poor provision and ensuring that all apprenticeships last a minimum of a year.

“That is why we increased apprenticeship funding in the spending review and are consulting on a major reform of apprenticeship funding this Summer to ensure purchasing power is in the hands of employers.”

The DfE declined to comment further on efforts to promote 16 to 18 apprenticeship applicants.