Government figures showed a 6 per cent fall in employer numbers posting apprenticeship vacancies in the same week it admitted to delaying the launch of a service it hopes will improve the situation.
Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) data published on Tuesday (April 5) showed that 23,800 employers posted vacancies from last August to March this year.
That was just over 6 per cent down on 25,360 posted over the same period in 2014/15.
The SFA then admitted a day later, in its weekly update, it had delayed the launch of the new ‘recruit an apprentice/trainee’ service until “early summer”.
The online bulletin did not however mention the inclusion of a planned feature to allow employers to post their own vacancies, as promised in the government’s ‘English Apprenticeships: Our 2020 Vision’ document released in December.
That report said at the time employers would “be able to post their own vacancies on the system, working with education and training providers where they want to” by February.
When asked by FE Week what was happening with this, an SFA spokesperson said: “The first phase of the launch will enable providers to post their own vacancies. The second phase will allow employers to post their own vacancies.”
The fall in employers posting vacancies comes after the 2020 Vision document wrote: “We know that in other countries, the proportion of employers engaged with apprenticeships is much higher.
“For instance, around 25 per cent of employers in Austria employ apprentices, 24 per cent in Germany, and 30 per cent in Australia. This is compared to only 15 per cent of establishments who have or offer apprenticeships in England.”
The same SFA and BIS data published this week showed a 20 per cent increase in the number of vacancies posted — from 87,340 for August to March last academic year, to 105,170 up to March 2015/16.
The number of applications also went up by three per cent over the same eight months, from 1,024,830 in 2014/15 to 1,060,220 of 2015/16.
Mike Cherry, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) national chairman, said: “While this report can be read in a number of ways, it’s good to see more people seeking to be apprentices.
“Although the number of employers using the official apprenticeships vacancies website is down, we can’t assume this means fewer are seeking apprentices — they may just be choosing to advertise opportunities in other ways.”
He added: “While aspects of the government’s reform plans, such as the apprenticeship levy, will not be applied to the smallest firms, it is important these businesses can continue to interact with the system.”
An SFA spokesperson did not answer directly when asked by FE Week if it was concerned about the fall in employers posting apprenticeship vacancies. But she said the delayed ‘recruit an apprentice/trainee’ service would “include quick and easy to use tools, including a self-serve facility for colleges and other training organisations which will allow providers and employers to work closely together and advertise their vacancies more quickly”.