Apprenticeship starts appear to be recovering after new data showed a less dramatic percentage drop amid the pandemic.

Figures published this morning by the Department for Education show there were 91,100 starts recorded from August to October 2020, compared to 125,800 reported for the same period pre-Covid-19 in 2019/20 – a 28 per cent fall. 

It is an improved picture on the previous quarter of the pandemic, when 43,600 starts were achieved between May and July 2020, compared to 75,500 starts for the same period in 2019 – a 42 per cent fall.

The DfE points out that the 2020/21 data “covers a period affected by varying Covid-19 restrictions, which will have impacted on apprenticeship and traineeship learning and also provider reporting behaviour via the Individualised Learner Record”, adding that “extra care should be taken in comparing and interpreting data presented in this release”. 

For the data recorded in the first quarter of 2020/21, those aged under 19 accounted for the biggest fall, with starts for this age group dropping 42 per cent from 40,700 last year to 23,800. 

Starts for level 2 apprenticeships similarly dropped by 43 per cent – from 41,000 to 23,300 – while the only increase in starts in quarter one of 2020/21 was seen among higher apprenticeships, which rose by 1 per cent from 29,800 to 30,100. 

Today’s statistics also provide an update for take-up of the chancellor’s apprenticeship incentive scheme, which hands employers a “bonus” of up to £2,000 to take on a new apprentice between 1 August 2020 and 31 March 2021. 

As at 8 January 2021, a total of 18,670 starts were planned under the scheme. The Treasury had budgeted for up to 100,000 incentive payments for new apprentice hires.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Jane Hickie said her organisation had previously warned that the incentives for apprenticeships “weren’t enough to make a significant difference”, as today’s data suggests.

“The chancellor recognises that young people are being hurt most by this recession, as today’s figures show, but his March statement has to do a lot more to reverse these falls,” she added.

Responding to today’s figures, skills minister Gillian Keegan said: “Apprenticeships form a vital part of our new Skills for Jobs White Paper which will transform post-16 education and training, helping to deliver the skills individuals, businesses and the economy need to build back better from the pandemic.

“As of January 8th 2021 almost 19,000 applications had been submitted from employers for our offer of a cash boost of up to £2000 to hire new apprentices, showing the value they know apprenticeships can bring to their business.  This offer is available until March 2021, so businesses can create even more opportunities and give more people the life changing chance to kick start or upskill their career.”

She added: “I know the pandemic is continuing to impact businesses across the country and some apprentices have lost their job, or are facing redundancy. Our Redundancy Support Service continues to offer free advice to apprentices and help to find them alternative options.”