Apprenticeship starts for the whole of 2019/20 fell 18 per cent on the previous academic year, new figures show.

Provisional data published this morning by the Department for Education has revealed there were a total of 319,200 starts last year compared to 389,000 in 2018/19.

A drop was to be expected owing to impact that lockdown had on apprenticeship recruitment following the outbreak of Covid-19.

FE Week analysis shows that just one month (September) out of the 12 in 2019/20 saw starts increase on the year before.

Apprenticeships for young people aged 16 to 18 were the hardest hit overall, dropping by 22 per cent. Starts for 16 to 18s in July were down a huge 64 per cent.

Between 23 March – when lockdown hit – and 31 July 2020, there have been 58,160 apprenticeship starts, fewer than the 107,750 reported for this period at this point last year, a decrease of 46 per cent.

The DfE points out that final data will not become available until later in the year, therefore at this point it is “unclear what the true number of starts in the affected period was or if the level of reporting at this point in the year has been affected by the lockdown”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We recognise this is a difficult time for employers, apprentices and people thinking about their next steps, but we remain committed to making sure people across the country can access high-quality apprenticeship opportunities.

“Apprenticeships will continue to play a vital role in growing our economy and as we build back better after the pandemic, making sure people get the skills they need to get ahead and businesses have the talented workforce they need.

“It is encouraging to see that even during these challenging times, employers of all sizes still recognise the value apprenticeships can bring to their businesses.”

Association of Employment and Learning Providers managing director Jane Hickie said: “The government has taken some welcome steps recently to support apprentices who have been made redundant but as the furlough scheme unwinds, we are sadly hearing of more apprentices becoming unemployed especially in sectors like hospitality.

“To help create new opportunities on the programme, ministers need to replicate the Kickstart scheme and start subsidising the wages of new young apprentices.

“They also need to do more to protect the jobs of tens of thousands of existing apprentices who can’t complete their programmes right now because of bureaucracy preventing them from being properly assessed while the covid restrictions remain.”

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