‘Still early days’ says BIS after just 300 Trailblazer apprenticeship starts in nine months

The government has defended Trailblazer apprenticeships after official figures indicated there had been just 300 starts on the new employer–designed programmes in nine months.

It is the first time uptake data on Trailblazers, listed in the latest Statistical First Release (SFR), has been released and it further showed the programme appeared to have stalled with just 100 of the starts listed coming since November last year. The exact number of starts remains unknown as in the SFR “volumes are rounded to the nearest 100”.

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) spokesperson said: “Trailblazers is a new programme and the figures included in the June 2015 SFR are provisional in-year estimates. The figures are subject to change when the final full year data is published in November.”

Association of Colleges skills policy manager Teresa Frith said “uncertainty” surrounding Trailblazers meant it was “not surprising” uptake had been slow.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Stewart Segal said the solution to boosting Trailblazers was to involve more providers in their development.

He said: “We have always asked for a clearer strategic programme over a longer period to make the transition from frameworks to standards.”

Trailblazer standards are a key part of government reforms and as of March this year there were 24 ready for delivery, according to the Skills Funding Agency website. But the government has said its ambition is for all apprenticeship starts to be on the Trailblazer standards from 2017/18. The BIS spokesperson added: “The pipeline of standards is increasing all the time with 129 currently approved and a significant number of new ones likely to be approved next month.”

The provisional SFR data also revealed a resurgence in the number of 25+ apprenticeships, which have gone from representing 32 per cent of all apprenticeships to 40 per cent. They fuelled growth in apprenticeship starts overall to 374,200 so far this year — an increase of 59,600 on the provisional data for the same period last year.

Of the total number of starts since the beginning of the year, 150,300 were 25+, up 50,000 on the same time last year, while 101,700 16 to 19-year-olds started apprenticeships — a 6,500 increase.

Ms Frith said: “To be taken on as an apprentice, a young person needs to be a good bet and low risk for an employer. This is perhaps why most apprenticeship starts in the past few years have actually been with older age groups.” She said there was a need to “incentivise” employers to “take the plunge” of offering an apprenticeship to a young person.

Meanwhile, Mr Segal said the increase in 25+ apprenticeships was due to a dip last year due to the failed FE loans system for apprenticeships which had put off huge numbers of learners.

Dr Fiona Aldridge, assistant director for development and research at the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said: “It is always encouraging to see people of all ages getting training and support in work.

“However we would be concerned if the high proportion of people aged 25+ on apprenticeships was just a way of recognising current competencies and not representing the true skills development that so many people, workplaces and our economy needs.”

The SFR also revealed traineeship starts had more than doubled since the same time last year, with 15,100 in the first three quarters of 2014/15 compared to 7,400 in 2013/14.

Skills Minister Nick Boles said: “These figures show we are on course to create a modern and competitive workforce that boosts the country’s productivity and prosperity.”


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  1. I’m personally not surprised at the number of Trailblazer starts, although the Trailblazer development work has been underway for some time now, most of the early Phase 1 and 2 activity took quite a while to get more detail than the ‘2 sides of A4’ to define what an employer needs. It will be interesting to see how many employers currently engaged with Trailblazers will continue to take forward additional occupations, having now been through the process in earlier phases.
    As far as relative performance is concerned set against historical performance, there have been so many changes in funding priorities, quality statements and modes of funding that correlations will be suggestive rather than absolutely firm.

  2. Trailblazers seem to have been a political exercise in schmoozing senior Staff in high profile businesses, once the actual ‘standards’ get to the shop floor they are meaningless, tying them up with employer contribution and intransigence has just made them worse.

    End tests – as someone (fortunately just retired) who was a Telecommunications Technician Apprentice with deeds signed by the Secretary of State for Defence there is no meaningful test that would have covered all eleven people in my year.

    Trailblazers may be made to work by providers, but the end result will be yet another dumbing down exercise – if I had a pound for every Engineering Employer who said “can you do an Apprenticeship like I had in the 60’s or 70’s” I’d have retired years ago.

    At some point it needs real Apprentice knowledge people to sort the mess that is being created.