Shared apprenticeship scheme barely meets half its recruitment target

Flexible construction apprenticeship starts tumble amid sector-wide recruitment issues

Flexible construction apprenticeship starts tumble amid sector-wide recruitment issues

The architect of the government’s trailblazing flexible apprenticeship scheme has said a “misunderstanding” of the programme led to repeated missed recruitment targets.

“Shared” apprenticeships were rolled out by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) in 2012, way before the government’s flexi-job apprenticeship scheme was unveiled in 2021.

CITB, an arm’s-length body of the Department for Education, aimed to recruit 500 apprentices per year via the partly funded programme but barely met half that figure in each of the past seven years, according to exclusive figures shared with FE Week (see table).

CITB admitted the figures were not as “high as initially expected”, insisting this was due to the shared apprenticeship model not being “as understood as the traditional routes” into construction, as well as the scheme not giving learners long-term job security and consistency of a traditional apprenticeship.

In 2023/24, just 160 apprentices started through the route, a fall of one-third from the 240 apprentice starts in 2017/18 when the scheme finally became fully fledged across England, Scotland and Wales. Achievement rates have fluctuated between 45 and 63 per cent.

CITB officials explained that when shared apprenticeships were first rolled out in 2012, the 500 annual recruitment target was accepted following a “high adoption rate” in Wales. However, a slow rollout across England, compounded by pandemic challenges, hindered overall recruitment.

Shared apprenticeships were originally set up for careers in the built environment sector to enable small- and medium-sized employers (SMEs), who cannot offer full apprenticeships, to hire apprentices. They need to last for at least 12 months by law.

The scheme works similarly to a flexi-job apprenticeship. Apprentices are placed on to short-term placements with different employers via one of six regional agencies, typically between two to five placements for the whole apprenticeship.

These agencies end up coaching SMEs with little knowledge or experience of apprenticeships, which does not always work out, according to Sally Moore, director of Training and Apprenticeships in Construction (TrAC), one of the agencies.

“We’ve had situations where we had to move people sooner than the expected duration and situations where a host company doesn’t like training an apprentice. We’ve had to move them as well because it’s not good for anybody,” she said.

TrAC, along with the other five agencies, now also offer flexi-job apprenticeships.

Construction skills gap concerns

The low take-up of shared apprenticeships speaks to widely reported recruitment challenges in the construction industry.

CITB said in a 2023 report that an extra 225,000 construction workers may be needed by 2027. Yet statistics show the annual apprenticeship starts in construction has hovered around 20,000 since 2017. Retention rates have been just 56 per cent for the past two years.

“Employers [sic] reluctant to commit to the time required to train or needing experienced and already skilled staff,” a CITB spokesperson explained.

They added that “despite the lower-than-expected numbers”, shared apprenticeships remain a “big success” as it led to different flexible apprenticeship schemes across construction and other sectors coming onstream.

“We accept there are still skills challenges for the sector, and apprenticeships – whatever form they take – are just one of many routes to try and attract new people,” they said.

Wider flexi-job scheme struggles to take off

Flexi job apprenticeships are available in the media and construction sectors

Ministers launched flexi-job apprenticeships after the pandemic to boost opportunities in the creative, digital and construction sectors where short-term employment models are more prevalent.

The DfE wanted between 1,500 to 2,000 learners starting flexi-job apprenticeships by 2023. But to date just 1,330 starts have been recorded, according to the latest figures. Of those, 110 have completed their apprenticeship.

DfE introduced a register for companies to apply to deliver flexi-job apprenticeships in February 2022 and a quality framework came out last October to ensure providers can meet standards.

A total of 40 agencies form the final register. Companies can either voluntarily remove themselves or are expunged from the register if they do not meet DfE’s conditions.

Since last year, five companies have been removed from the register. Multiple agencies have exited due to low employer demand and high delivery costs.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We expect these numbers to grow as our network of 40 agencies mature. We will continue to monitor their progress, and work with agencies to make any changes we believe will boost uptake and improve the experience for employers and learners.”

This is not the first time a government apprenticeship target has bombed. DfE’s 18-month “portable” flexi-job apprenticeship pilot failed after FE Week revealed last year that it reached barely one per cent of its 2,000-recruitment goal.

Providers delivering flexi-jobs apprenticeships arrange employer placements, whereas learners on “portable” apprenticeships find their own placements and are supported by one training provider.

Providers in the pilot told FE Week at the time that employers were not convinced by apprentices working for a short time with them and preferred the full-time apprenticeship route.

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  1. Hailey

    My son is about to finish his 2nd year at college, with a level 3 Electrician. But won’t complete the qualification because he hasn’t been able to get an apprenticeship. The College said they would help with companies for students to get apprenticeships. When we 1st looked around them before choosing the college, so very disappointed.

    • Hi Hailey. I work for one of the organisations mentioned above, and we, or one of our other schemes may be able to help your son to continue his learning by employing him and placing him with host employers we work with for an Apprenticeship. Electrical is not covered by the CITB scheme, but we all work in other areas of the Build Environment as well as with CITB registered employers. Depending on where you live will depend on which of us to contact, and there are no guarantee’s, but we will do what we can to help him. All our contact details are on the CITB website.

  2. Melody

    My daughter completed degree in digital Art in 2021. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 she did not find any work placement for work experience.
    This has made it difficult for her to find a job. She has now decided to have a career change to do software development apprenticeship but struggling to find Apprenticeships in software development in London or Surrey. She has 2 A level but not stem subjects. She is finding it difficult to get apprenticeship placement due to restricted requirements. If she could get help from any recognize organizations for software development apprenticeship to offer her placement as she is interested in this career.