Skills minister: Apprenticeship starts will surge by September

The skills minister identified September as the month by which she expects to see a surge in apprenticeship starts, in an exclusive webinar with FE Week.

Anne Milton revealed that she is looking to the start of the next academic year, during her chat this afternoon with FE Week’s editor Nick Linford.

“I will be told by my officials that I shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to say it anyway,” she said. “I would hope that by September to see some real numbers.”

Figures released by the Department for Education in January revealed apprenticeship starts have fallen 41 per cent since the introduction of the levy in May, compared with the same period in the previous year.

Provisional starts for the first quarter of 2017, covering August, September and October, showed a fall of 26 per cent on the previous year.

For the government to hit its target of three million apprenticeship starts by 2020 there would need to be an average of at least 50,000 starts a month.

But the monthly average over the first 28 months stands at just 41,470.

However, Ms Milton believes there has been “quite a dramatic shift with employers” recently, and said many are “planning to rapidly increase numbers” of apprentices, particularly in the retail and hospitality sectors.

“We’ve done some proper investigation,” she said. “These things take time, and it’s only been a year. But the providers are waiting in the wings and ready to go.”

FE Week editor Nick Linford questions Anne Milton about apprenticeship reforms during the webinar

During the webinar, sponsored by the Northern Council for Further Education (NCFE) and featuring the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s director of funding and programmes, Keith Smith, Ms Milton said local MPs have a role to play in encouraging small businesses to take on more apprentices.

“We are doing some teaching sessions for MPs,” she said. “I’ve got 650 disciples in the Houses of Parliament. They know their local areas, they know a lot of small businesses.

“I think they can do a great deal of work with them. I think that’s a great opportunity.”

Mr Smith shared the ESFA’s plans for the development of apprenticeship policy over the next year, including the option for employers to transfer 10 per cent of the levy to another employer from April. 

He said the new policy should be seen as an “employer-led opportunity” and means “levy-paying employers taking control of where they want to invest their funds”.

At the end of the session, Ms Milton said FE Week’s webinar had been a “great opportunity” and she was looking forward to “doing again soon”.

Others also took to social media to respond to the minister’s answers during the session.