New employer incentives will form part of ‘apprenticeship guarantee’, claims ESFA director

The Education and Skills Funding Agency’s director for apprenticeships has revealed that discussions are underway with Treasury about what “incentives” they can give employers as part of the prime minister’s “apprenticeship guarantee” pledge.

Peter Mucklow revealed the first bit of detail of how the proposal might work during an Association of Employment and Learning Providers webinar this morning, in which he said apprenticeships are “central to the government’s view on recovery” from Covid-19.

“We are looking at what incentives can be provided including to employers to incentivise them to make more new starts available than would otherwise be the case given the current lack of confidence or indeed available funds for many employers,” he explained.

“That is something we are discussing internally and with Treasury.”

Mucklow, who was previously the ESFA’s director of further education but got moved to the apprenticeships role after Keith Smith left for the Department for Education last month, added that an apprenticeships guarantee also means ensuring “that we have sufficient budgets to meet small and medium sized enterprises ambition to recruit”.

“That is in relation to contracts but also numbers of SMEs coming forward and we have the money in the budget to meet that demand.

“Specifically, [those are] the three things we can take away from that apprenticeship guarantee statement and you might expect more to be said over the coming weeks on that.”

His comments come three weeks after prime minsiter Boris Johnson told the nation during a coronavirus briefing that young people “should be guaranteed an apprenticeship” after warning of “many, many job losses” expected from the fallout of Covid-19.

Various sector bodies, such as the AELP and the Association of Colleges, have since said that wage subsidies would have to be central to the policy to make it a reality.

Apprenticeship starts have continued to drop sharply since the outbreak of coronavirus. Data published yesterday by the Department for Education showed that from March 23 – when lockdown began – to May 31 there were 26,090 starts compared to the 50,050 reported between those months in 2019 – a fall of 47.9 per cent.

Skills minister Gillian Keegan told an FE Week webcast in April that her “biggest worry” during the Covid-19 pandemic is the “recruitment of new apprentices”.

Mucklow told today’s AELP webinar that the government is also looking “more broadly” than apprenticeships to areas such as traineeships.

“Apprenticeships depend on some things that we can’t control while we might be able to incentivise them so we are really interested in what we can do to improve and expand traineeships for example,” he said.

“I haven’t got time to say anything more on that but that could also provide some significant opportunities.”

Johnson and the chancellor Rishi Sunak are expected to announce their Covid-19 recovery strategy in the coming weeks and reports suggest skills and training will be at the heart of their plan.