Overall progress towards the public sector apprenticeship target stands at 1.4 per cent so far, according to statistics published by the Department for Education this morning.

The target, which came into effect last April, obliges public sector organisations to make sure that new apprentices make up at least 2.3 per cent of their overall workforce numbers on average over the next four years.

According to today’s figures there were 45,314 new apprenticeship starts in 2017/18 across the whole of the public sector.

That represents 1.4 per cent out of a total workforce of 3,207,619 at the start of the year.

Within that overall figure there are some huge variations: the armed forces smashed the target with new apprenticeship starts representing 9.1 per cent of their total number of employees over the year.

They had 13,475 apprenticeship starts, out of a total workforce of 147,465.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, police forces’ apprenticeship recruitment rate stood at just 0.2 per cent.

They took on just 375 apprentices over the year, out of a total workforce of 160,060.

A further two areas of the public sector recruited below 1 per cent – with both the fire authority and local government reporting progress of 0.9 per cent towards the target.

The NHS was one of the better performing public sector organisations, despite the number of apprentices it recruited over the past two years dropping by a third.

It had 13,800 apprenticeship starts in 2017/18, which represented 1.2 per cent of a total headcount of 1,194, 614.

Skills minister Anne Milton said she was “very pleased” to see the rising number of apprenticeship starts in the public sector.

“I am particularly pleased to see that vital services like the NHS are doing well, and along with the Royal Navy are leading the way,” she said.

“I visited Leeds Teaching Hospital recently where I saw first-hand how apprenticeships have changed people’s lives and are helping to make sure the NHS can continue to get the skilled nurses they need.

“I want to see other public sector employers rising to the challenge so that more people can get the skills they need to get a good job and rewarding career.”

Jonathan Mitchell, who oversees the development of new apprenticeships at the Institute for Apprenticeships, said it was “delighted” to see the “significant progress” towards the public target.

“It is encouraging to see that the armed services are leading the way. We have been working closely with them and also the NHS to help boost their use of new apprenticeships,” he said.

As previously reported by FE Week, progress by the civil service towards the target stands at 1.3 per cent overall – although apprenticeship starts made up less than one per cent of the workforce in seven government departments.

Mark Dawe, boss of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said that rules around off-the-job training were likely to be hitting public sector apprenticeship take-up and reiterated his demand for greater flexibility in implementing the rule.

“We constantly hear from public sector employers that the 20 per cent rule is posing them real challenges, especially in terms of staff backfill to enable releases to happen,” he said.

All public-sector organisations in England with 250 or more employees must have reported progress towards the apprenticeship target by September this year.

It’s an average target across the years 2017/18 to 2020/21 to “give flexibility to organisations to manage peaks and troughs in recruitment”, according to DfE guidance.

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