Apprenticeship starts for the whole of 2022/23 fell by 3 per cent on the previous academic year – solely driven by falling numbers in small and medium-sized employers, new data shows.
Provisional government figures published this morning show 336,510 starts reported to date for last year compared to the 347,920 recorded at the same point in 2021/22.
Starts for 16- to 18-year-olds held up compared to other age groups, increasing by a few hundred from 77,150 to 77,510. Apprenticeships for those aged 19 to 24 fell by the biggest proportion of all age groups – declining by 7 per cent from 105,940 to 98,490.
Continuing the trend since the launch of the apprenticeship levy in 2017, it was level 2 starts that saw the biggest drop. Level 2 starts fell 17 per cent from 91,310 to 76,210. Higher apprenticeships at levels 4 and above grew by 7 per cent from 105,840 to 112,890.
Starts among levy-paying businesses also increased slightly, up by 2 per cent from 222,940 to 227,850.
Whereas starts for non-levy paying businesses dropped by 13 per cent from 124,980 to 108,660. It adds further evidence to the consistent message from providers and business leaders that SMEs find the apprenticeship system too difficult to navigate.
Simon Ashworth, director of policy at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said today’s figures show a “really concerning decline” in SMEs taking on apprentices, but “sadly do not come as a surprise”.
He told FE Week: “If we’re to support more SMEs harness the amazing opportunities that apprenticeships bring, we need a much more accessible and less bureaucratic apprenticeship service system, scrap the 5 per cent co-investment requirement for non-levy paying employers; and introduce more effective and targeted incentives for both employers and providers.
“The chancellor has the perfect opportunity to address this worrying decline in his forthcoming autumn statement, and we urge him to be decisive with targeted financial intervention.”