Apprenticeship starts have dropped by almost half since lockdown compared to the same period last year, according to new Department for Education figures.

Provisional data published today shows that from March 23 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.

The DfE stressed that final data will not become available until later in the year, so therefore at this point it is “unclear what the true number of starts in the affected period was or if the level of underreporting at this point in the year has been affected by the lockdown”.

Young learners have been the hardest hit by Covid-19, as the data shows just 2,020 (7.7 per cent) of the 26,090 starts were for those aged under 19. Starts for over 25s made up 16,670 (63.9 per cent).

And level 2 apprenticeships accounted for 7,020 (26.9 per cent) of starts; this was 37.1 per cent in 2018/19.

Last month DfE data revealed there had been 13,020 apprenticeship starts reported between March 23 and the end of April, compared to 26,300 for the same period last year.

Responding to the latest figures, Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe said: “With youth unemployment having doubled, we need an urgent policy response that protects both existing apprentices coming off furlough and stimulates new apprenticeship opportunities for other young people while also providing an option for unemployed adults.

“The DfE should finally recognise too that both levy and non-levy apprenticeships need to be protected by its provider relief scheme.

“Apprenticeships are jobs and most observers agree that a significant wage subsidy is required to encourage employers, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, to offer new opportunities.”  

A DfE spokesperson said: “We acknowledge this is a challenging time for employers, apprentices and people thinking about their next steps, but we absolutely remain committed to investing in apprenticeships.

“They are an excellent way to get ahead in a wide range of rewarding careers and will continue to play an important role in delivering the high-quality skills that employers need and will support our economic recovery post Covid-19.

“We are looking at how we can support employers, especially small and medium sized businesses, to take on new apprentices this year and will provide further detail in due course.”

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