Since 2017 there has been significant reporting about the decline in #Apprenticeship numbers, often blamed on the introduction of the levy and increased focus by providers in this new market.

More detailed analysis of the data and facts presents a very different picture – namely the almost identical increase in 19+ Apprenticeship starts matched by an equal reduction in 16-18 starts. 

So let us debate more about the reasons why this decline may have happened, not just in terms of data but in terms of the lost opportunities for this cohort of learners.

Whilst the birth rate will see an increase in the 16- 18 cohort in the next few years unless we do something radical more young people will lose the opportunities to gain an Apprenticeship and embark on their careers.

So let us understand what has happened and the reasons that may account for the decline in starts – it is certainly not we are lacking talented young people.

1. Funding Levels

The decline in starts correlates exactly at the same time as the drop in funding for 16 – 18 by 50% in May 2017. A reason or mutually exclusive events? –the practicality is that most employers will appoint someone who are a little older if presented to them for interview,  and for providers, there is an increased cost and risk associated with recruiting and developing young people – the current costing consultation totally ignores this important issue so less 16 – 18 years olds are being put forward for Apprenticeship opportunities and certainly more 19+ being offered roles.

2. Lack of Quantum of funding

I know of many providers where funding has not been an issue in terms of opportunities for young people, indeed there are some with funding they cannot spend and whilst it is early days for the new non levy pilot funding project, we don’t appear to be getting messages from the ESFA that the pot is running dry. So, whilst there will inevitably be some examples of lost opportunity, it certainly doesn’t account for the gap that has now developed.

3. Impact of the Levy

Whilst controversial, large employers were never significant adopters of Apprenticeships for young people. With some notable exceptions in Engineering, Automotive and other sectors, for the ‘Professions’, Apprenticeships were always for others. 16-18 engagement was dominated by SME’s and continues to be so and there is no evidence that large employers have expanded their Apprenticeship provision for young people – other than where it results in a ‘licence to practice’ which previously would have been funded commercially. We still have ‘Academic Snobbery’ within our system, and we must do more to support employers in their understanding and we must do more with schools around careers advice. 

4. University Progression

There is no evidence of increased participation in University life as a reason for this decline, albeit there are more places available than students. There are over 50,000 Degrees in the UK system, with this in-mind is it time to embark on a skills programme for employers that links through to all echelons of education, one that is truly meaningful to our GDP, economy and growth, especially post Brexit.

5. Marketing and PR

Whilst BREXIT continues to dominate the political agenda over the past few years, publicity for Apprenticeships remains high, we have the introduction of the BAKER clause with Schools which is beginning to embed in the system so that cannot be a reason for a decline in volumes and numbers

6. Unattractive Apprenticeship Pathways

We have never seen so many Apprenticeship standards being developed leading to professional qualifications and alternative pathways for young people so the offer is not lacking – some of the standards are exciting and compelling and I fully support the decision not to adopt the L2 Business Admin Standard. 

The only conclusion that can be drawn for the drop in starts is the reduction in funding offered to support 16 -18 engagement. 

Whilst promotion and engagement is one of those ineligible costs nobody ever talks about but everyone does as a core part of an Apprenticeship business, if we really want 16- 18 year olds to be engaged and offered Apprenticeships going forward, we have to do something about the unit of funding and recognise that their engagement and support is more costly than working with more mature learners. 

So let’s keep up the pressure to effect change, otherwise high quality young people will drift into T Levels – that is another subject for another day – getting 300 hours of work experience is going to be a significant challenge!

The budget yesterday doesn't appear to address the lost opportunities for our 16 – 18 year olds. We must still continue to push for an increase in the unit of funding, compel Levy payers to employ a percentage of 16 – 18 year olds, enforce the 2.3% public sector target and recognise the funding levels drives behaviours across our sector. 

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