Staff have been told that they must fill junior executive vacancies with apprentices, as part of a three-month trial in the Department for Education and Education and Skills Funding Agency.

Skills minister Gillian Keegan said the change in recruitment policy was to show that “we practise what we preach” when it comes to boosting the number of apprentices across the country.

The department is also “actively exploring” the development of a “DfE traineeship” focused on supporting more young people onto their apprenticeship programmes.

Both traineeships and apprenticeships are part of chancellor Rishi Sunak’s plan to boost jobs, particularly among young people, following the Covid-19 pandemic.

In his summer statement, Sunak announced that, from August to January, any firm that hires an apprentice aged 16 to 24 would receive a cash bonus of £2,000, while those that hire apprentices aged 25 and over would be paid £1,500.

Speaking at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ Covid-19 business recovery conference this week, Keegan said the incentive payments meant it was “a great time for employers to offer apprenticeship opportunities”.

She was then “delighted” to report that the DfE was “changing our recruitment approach to support the take-up of new apprenticeships”, adding that “we will practise what we preach”.

From September 1 to December 31, all junior roles at executive assistant and executive officer level within the DfE and its funding arm, the ESFA, will be filled using apprenticeships for a “trial period”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “As the lead department responsible for apprenticeships, we are taking action to support more people to do an apprenticeship and gain the skills they need to start a rewarding career.

“We are starting with a three-month trial covering all junior vacancies in the DfE and ESFA. After the trial period is up we will review its effectiveness before deciding on our next steps.”

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education – the government’s apprenticeship quango – told FE Week that, while it was in “close communication” with the DfE about the new apprentice recruitment initiative it had no current plans to take part in the trial.

A spokesperson added that the institute would “continue to look at our own approach and what can be done to employ more apprentices”.

Ofsted, a non-ministerial arm of the DfE, told FE Week that it had no plans to take part in the trial. A spokesperson said: “Recruitment at Ofsted has been significantly reduced due to the pandemic, and it is likely to remain limited as we focus on our restart programme. However, we will continue to review whether any new vacancies are appropriate to offer as apprenticeships.”

According to the DfE’s latest data, apprenticeship starts have dropped by 47 per cent, from 101,300 to 53,530, between March 23 and July 31 this year compared with the same period in 2019, largely because of lockdown.

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