The 16 to 18 apprenticeships budget has been cut by £166m as would-be apprentices were squeezed out of places by “competition” from older applicants, a senior Department for Education (DfE) civil servant has revealed.

Simon Judge, the DfE’s finance and commercial director, wrote to the Education Select Committee after its expected funding of 16 to 18 apprenticeships in the current financial year fell nearly 20 per cent to £684.3m.

He said the removal of poor quality provision explained some of the underspend, but increased competition from applicants aged 19-plus, funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, was also a factor.

“The removal of poor quality [apprenticeship] provision is only one element of the overall underspend,” wrote Mr Judge in a letter dated May 8 to committee clerk Lynn Gardner.

He said changes in the apprenticeship mix by sector, and the wider economic conditions facing businesses in some regions and sectors, also explained the fall.

The financial revision was disclosed in the DfE’s supplementary 2012-13 estimate.

In the most recent Statistical First Release, published in March, the number of under 19 apprenticeships started in the first half of this year was provisionally 69,600 — a 12 per cent drop on last year’s provisional figure of  79,100.

By contrast, the 19-24 apprenticeship starts over the same period grew 6.5 per cent.

This comes just two months after the government revealed under 19 apprenticeship starts had fallen for the first time in three years — from 131,700 in 2010/11 to 129,900 last year.

Tristram Hunt, Junior Shadow Education Minister, claimed the underspend revealed incompetence. “The number of apprenticeship starts for young people has already fallen by nearly 2,000 in the past year. And now we discover that the government is so incompetent that it’s not even spending all the money in the apprenticeships budget. With nearly one million young people unemployed that is simply unacceptable,” he told FE Week.

A joint statement from the two departments said: “There are a number of reasons behind this underspend. This includes changes in the cost of courses that were taken up, economic challenges facing some sectors and an increase in 19 to 24-year-olds choosing to become an apprentice. We have also rooted out poor quality provision that was not meeting the needs of today’s employers.”

A senior economist at the Institute for Public Policy Research, Tony Dolphin, who wrote  the report Rethinking Apprenticeships, added that apprenticeships should be reserved only for those aged 16 to 24.

“They should not be just another form of on-the-job training; they should specifically support the transition of young people from education into work through a mix of on-the-job targeted training and more general off-the-job learning,” he said.

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  1. I’d agree with the point made in Peter’s article and subsequent comments, employability skills amongst School leavers are appalling. If we are to define an apprenticeship as a new job where a young person learns new skills, an employability element in the framework is essential. I’d have it accredited.

    From the employers side, again you have to agree with what Peter highlighted. Employers will recruit if there’s a business need, what will give them confidence is a programme of employability learning at the front end of a programme. Most employers would love to give a young person an opportunity.

    The issue is, and I’ve found myself in this position too, is that when you’re faced with 50 CVs you’ll go with the 21 year old who has a bit of experience under their belt! Even at Apprentice NMW, it’s still a cost to recruit and train someone, someone with a couple of years of employment experience poses a reduced risk.

    I personally struggle with the AGE Grant, I see providers all over LinkedIn basically marketing with a “hey employer, have someone free” approach, which completely down values the brand and social/business value for taking on a young person. The grant doesn’t resolve declining numbers of young people starting apprenticeships, in many cases employers don’t receive the money until late or are promised “free money” from the provider only to find out they’re not eligible.

    Finally (long one today!), we must not forget that there is a real need for 19-24 year olds to access apprenticeship jobs. It’s not that age groups fault that the economy crashed and University fees were raised to a ridiculous level. I hope with that in mind, that there isn’t a ‘crusade’ to rid opportunities for people aged 19+, as we have a lost generation of young people.

    I’ve said it before, but I strongly believe funding for 16-24 year olds should be a single rate when it is the creation of a new career for a young person.

    • It is really depressing that despite all the actions of each government we are still in the position where most of our young people are not leaving school with the right attitude to impress employers Ben. Where they do impress (and I feel like a stuck record) impress it is because of real work experience (provided by a minority of schools for a minority of their pupils and not really captured by anyone nationally) or by virtue of a 14-16 vocational course in conjunction with a college or training provider (something that will be virtually extinct next year because of changes in policy).

  2. What is particularly sad about every piece of solid news about apprenticeships for the real target age group they were intended for from the beginning of their inception many years ago (school leavers) is that the numbers keep on falling. So in summer 2013, the first year of the raised school leaving age when numbers should rise, they look likely to fall again. Put yourself in the position of a 16 year old deciding whether to stay at school, go to a college or start an apprenticeship. If you are reasonably bright your school will be advising you to stay on, with many now offering vocational options that they do not have the expertise and employer connections to provide to the required standard. For example, an NVQ in catering (and as the person who wrote the first NVQ with a colleague from City and Guilds back in 1987 I really do not understand how this is possible or allowed). It is all very well that the NAS has reported increased enquiries (as in a recent article) but to turn those into apprenticeship starts more work with employers is required. I am not in a position to know what is happening with large employers nationally in terms of decreasing or increasing recruitment of apprentices, but snippets of information I come across are not positive. For example, one British-based airline is not recruiting any aviation engineering apprentices this year. Something urgently needs to be done to increase the opportunities for our young people by engaging employers to offer apprenticeships and to offer every young person fully independent careers advice, where there is not self-interest in keeping them at a school. We will watch this space with interest for the next instalment of not promoting 16-18 apprenticeships sufficiently to employers to take on apprentices.

  3. Apprenticeships now have to be undertaken by people who are in employment.

    It’s a DEMAND thing, not a SUPPLY thing.The number of paid hours of employment is in decline. We are in a recession. There will be no growth in the UK economy for the next 10 years unless it is artificially stimulated.

    Declining 16 to 18 apprenticeships should be no surprise to anyone, nor should a switch to employers favouring 19 to 24 year olds.

    The economy is no longer designed to meet the needs of training providers.

  4. Alastair

    Ermm… Since DfE funds 16 – 18 apprentices and those 19+ are funded by BIS, isn’t this headline more than a bit misleading?

    An apprenticeship is a contract of emplpoyment and unless we expect government to be able to direct who an employer can and cannot hire, the issue is about the relative unattractiveness of young people in the labour market – not about anyone ‘taking’ places from anyone else.

  5. The news that nationally young apprenticeship starts are down is disappointing and of course will be of particular concern to those young people who are desperately trying to find a suitable apprenticeship opportunity. However, I would also wish to highlight that here at PM Training in Stoke-on-Trent (part of The Aspire Group) we are pleased to report a more positive picture that’s bucking the trend.

    It’s nearly five years since Aspire took on PM Training as a social enterprise to prepare people for work, develop workforces, provide a Homeworks service to over 4000 customers – and deliver over 200 young apprenticeships a year.

    In the 2008/9 academic year we had 84 16-18 apprenticeship starts whereas in the 2011/12 academic year we had 261 starts. That’s an increase of 177 or 211% which we are very proud about. Meanwhile 74% of learners who positively progress from our initial training programme are progressing onto a full time apprenticeship. This has all been made possible because of our strategic approach to supply chain management which has seen us increase the number of businesses that we work with increase from 69 to over 850. We are then able to work with these businesses to enable them to create young apprenticeship opportunities for our learners.

    So, yes there are real challenges here but at PM Training we have shown that it’s certainly not all doom and gloom and for the sake of the young people we cannot allow it to be so.