Sean Cosgrove, Chief Commercial Officer at Lifetime Training Ltd

Long before the pandemic started earlier this year news about further education was often dominated by the year-on-year decline of Apprenticeships starts in England. In fact, the trend of decline has carried on since 2016/17 and the most recent statistics confirm a 18% year-on-year decline in 2019/20, accelerated significantly since the beginning of the pandemic in March.

Simultaneously, unemployment is on the rise, with young people feeling the greatest effects of the fall-out. As at September 2020, the rate of unemployment for economically active 16-24 year olds is now 16.4%, compared to 4.8% for the whole of the UK, both rising sharply in recent months.

Since March, the government has taken urgent and unprecedented action to protect businesses and the public from the economic fallout, by opening the public purse. Policies have been announced that place skills and employability at the heart of the economic recovery plan. However, despite the obvious best intentions evident in the actions taken, will they be effective?

Since August, employers have been incentivised to recruit new apprentices through the introduction of incremental payments to employers who take on new apprentices at month 3 and 12 of the apprenticeship, amounting to £2,000 for an apprentice aged 16-24, reducing to £1,500 for apprentices aged 25 and over.

By comparison, the Government will also invest up to £2bn in the widely promoted Kickstart scheme – paying 100% of the age-relevant National Minimum Wage, National Insurance and pension contributions for 25 hours a week over a 6-month period. In addition, employers will receive a payment of £1,500 for ‘setup costs’ at the commencement of employment. However, individuals on the Kickstart scheme cannot simultaneously start an Apprenticeship without the employer forgoing the wage subsidy.

It will take some time to understand whether these policies will have had the intended impact. However, with England plunged into another lockdown on Thursday (5 Nov) last week and several sectors no longer trading or severely restricted, it does not bode well for a rise in new apprenticeship starts to support the economic recovery as the Government may have hoped.

So, how could things be different?

What further steps can be taken to turn the tide on apprenticeship starts decline?

An international perspective

australian flag 100x100Australia

In the face of a similar economic crisis, Australia introduced the Boosting Apprenticeships Commencements scheme which provides a wage subsidy to employers worth 50% of apprentice’s wages, worth nearly £660m (AU $1.2bn). The scheme is aimed to create 100,000 new apprenticeship placements in the next 12 months from October 2020.

Following early criticism from education and business leaders that the scheme allowed employers to place existing employees onto an apprenticeship just to access the wage subsidy, the Government swiftly made changes to limit the number of existing employees apprentices to 30 per employer, with the exception of trade apprentices.

In addition, Australia took steps to protect existing apprentices and trainees by supporting small and medium size employers of up to 200 employees with a 50% wage subsidy via the Supporting Apprentices and Trainee scheme.

French flag 100x100France

France has adopted a similar UK-style incentive for employers who recruit an apprentice before the end of February 2021, offering a grant of €5,000 for each under-18 hired and €8,000 for those aged 18-30, with all businesses eligible1.

France experienced a rise of 16% in apprentices hired in 2019 to reach 490K, after the introduction of the apprenticeship reform adopted in the summer of 2018 that included a version of similar grants for employers taking on new apprentices.

German flag 100x100Germany

In June the German government announced it would support companies with a subsidy of €2,000 for each apprenticeship position they maintained and €3,000 for each additional place they offered.

However, the often-revered German apprenticeship system has not been immune from decline, forecasting 9% fewer apprenticeship places by the end of the year2.

An employer’s perspective

It begs the question, are financial incentives the key to promoting apprenticeship starts? We spoke to a few employers to get their views.

Graham Briggs, Head of Apprenticeships and Employability Programmes at Greene King, said:

“At Greene King we fully appreciate the value apprenticeships bring to both our business and the apprentice’s development and career opportunities.  We have always offered apprenticeships to all our employees and not focussed on the incentives – these merely allow us to re-invest and grow the programme further. 

"An extension to the recruitment period for the apprenticeship incentives would allow us to offer even more opportunities to our people and allow businesses and industries to make the most of them, if they have been unable to due to Covid.”

Matt Knibbs, Head of People and Culture at Millennium Support shared the perspective of an SME employer in the social care sector:

“Although a welcome addition, the Kickstart scheme rules are restrictive for us and SME’s overall.

"I would sooner see bigger incentives (e.g. 50% of salary paid for the duration of the learning) for job creation that utilises apprenticeships as this practical and structured way of learning is proven to deliver”

How could we do it differently in the UK?

Immediate recommendations for officials to consider supporting employers taking on apprentices include:

  1. Allow individuals on the Kickstart scheme to commence an Apprenticeship, without removing the wage subsidy from the employer, providing them an opportunity to develop the skills to advance their employment and career prospects as early as possible
  2. Extend the incentives for newly recruited Apprenticeship starts until the end of the academic year 2020/21 to allow employers to take advantage of the scheme when there is (hopefully) more economic optimism and less restrictions on businesses and the public.
  3. Remove the barriers of co-investment for non-levy paying employers, encouraging them to take on new apprentices.

As the Government considers the White Paper for Further Education due to be published this Autumn, I urge them to consider more support for employers to take on and retain apprentices, removing barriers to levelling up across the nation in the face of one of the worst economic crisis in a decade.

Sean Cosgrove, Chief Commercial Officer at Lifetime Training Ltd

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Kirklees College added a new event 59 minutes ago

Kirklees College 16-18 Virtual Open Days

Open to Year 11 students, parents and carers and applicants, the Virtual Open Days will take place over two days on Tuesday 29 June and Wednesday 30...

  • Tuesday, 29 June 2021 05:00 PM
  • Kirklees College
Alicia has published a new article: How to Keep Your Hybrid Workforce Engaged 16 hours 1 minute ago

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page