Apprenticeship starts show biggest drop in six months

Apprenticeship starts were down a massive 40 per cent in February on the same period in 2017, the latest provisional government statistics have revealed.

There were 21,800 starts reported for the month, compared with February 2017’s provisional total of 36,400, according to the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s monthly apprenticeship statistics update, published this morning.

This represents this biggest year-on-year percentage drop since last August.

Mark Dawe, the chief executive of the AELP, claimed that the apprenticeship levy itself isn’t the problem, but that the “the manner of its implementation is letting down thousands of SMEs and young people across the country”.  

“Our simple solution has been sitting on the minister’s desk for months, namely that for the time being the government should stop charging small employers for taking on young apprentices at levels two and three,” he said. Action must be taken now if the government wants to achieve its manifesto target.”

But skills minister Anne Milton insisted the government is “unapologetic” about its ambition for “high-quality apprenticeship opportunities” that are available to “everyone, regardless of their background”.

“The number of people starting on the old-style apprenticeships has fallen, but the number of people starting on our new, higher-quality apprenticeships are increasing well beyond our expectations. We won’t sacrifice that quality to increase quantity,” she said.

The latest figures come in the same week that education secretary Damian Hinds was quizzed by MPs on the fall in starts in Parliament on Monday.

He said there had been 242,100 starts since the levy was introduced last April.

“We are in a period of change, and some employers are taking longer to bed down what they are going to do with their apprenticeship levy money,” he conceded.

“We must bear in mind that they have two years to do that with each month’s money, but we are seeing a shift to longer, higher-quality apprenticeships, and that trend is to be welcomed.”

Mr Hinds added that the apprenticeship levy is an “important structural reform to the way we do training provision in this country” intended to “make sure that all sizeable firms are contributing to upskilling the nation”.


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  1. This is having a significant impact on Employers, Colleges, Learning Providers and importantly, potential apprentices. Action needs to be taken now if we’re to avoid more losses to our sector and rescue what should be our flagship programme!

  2. I think the true picture will not emerge until April. April figures are likely to look very bad against last year, as there was a huge serge in starts last April just before the Levy kicked in (almost double).
    If there is then the first full year of Levy/Non Levy funding could look very bad indeed.

  3. G Miller

    The Minister says that “the number of people starting on our new, higher-quality apprenticeships are increasing well beyond our expectations”. What is the definition of “high quality” in this context? I suspect she may be equating higher level to higher quality. Of course many higher level and degree level Apprenticeships will be high quality. But the question is whether they are really Apprenticeships and whether it is an appropriate use of tax payers money to fund then at the level they are currently being funded. Because even though the levy may be ring fenced to a given employer for 24 months it is still just that – tax payers money. It has been collected in the usual way by HMRC and when judgement day comes will be subject to scrutiny by the National Audit Office. Lets just hope that they – NAO -are as pleased with the growth in higher level Apprenticeships as the Minister is.

  4. We are a very small training provider dealing with non levy payers but we have still had a significant drop in new starts, mostly due to the 10% charge for 19+. Small employers are already feeling the pinch with ever growing costs to their businesses and adding 10% to their training bill is seen as just another cost they can do without. Some employers are now looking at employing college students on a part time basis but have no intention of taking these young people on a full time basis when qualified they are just glorified cleaners and shampooist for senior staff.

  5. Delboy

    So Ann Milton is proud of the quality of higher and Degree apprenticeships, but has anyone in Government thought how apprentices get to that level?

    The new standards have been prioritised at these levels, often at the expense of level 2 and 3, but someone needs to wake up consideration progression opportunities and succession planning.

    The numbers don’t lie!

  6. What do I think? I think the Levy plus the 20% rule has killed Apprenticeship training at L2 and L3 in a number of sectors. Adult Care starts used to be in the top 3 volume wise, it wouldn’t surprise if they are now in the bottom 3. Some national charities have blocked all Apprenticeship training below L5, the Care sector is facing a huge bill for back dated sleep over payments. Then explain to a Care provider that their full time employee on an 18 month programme would need over 500 hours of paid time for their training, which means 500 hours of extra cover. There is no money.