From education to employment

72% fall in entry-level apprenticeship uptake since 2014 – Sector Response

Government is urged to ‘not leave youngest behind’ this National Apprenticeships Week (#NAW2022) by boosting access to apprenticeships

Analysis of government data by the London Progression Collaboration (@lpc_progression) – an initiative to boost apprenticeship starts in the capital – has revealed a major decline in entry-level apprenticeships.

The analysis shows that since 2014/15, entry-level apprenticeship starts in England have plummeted by 72 per cent, while at the same time starts in higher level apprenticeships, often taken up by older people, have skyrocketed by 400 per cent.

The LPC warns that this decline in entry-level apprenticeships will be particularly affecting young people, as they are traditionally most likely to take up these opportunities. The LPC, which has supported more than new 700 apprenticeships in 160 small businesses over the last eighteen months, says there is a serious concern that this leaves those out of work, on zero-hour contracts, in in-work poverty or on the bottom rung of their career ladder less able to access apprenticeships.

The analysis shows that this decline in apprenticeships for young people has been particularly stark in the capital with the number of under-19s starts down from 9,550 in 2016/17 to 3,880 in 2020/21 – now making up just 11 per cent of apprenticeship starts, half of what they did five years ago.

These findings follow previous research that found apprenticeship starts in small-and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) fell by more than 36 per cent immediately following the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017.

The LPC says this is concerning considering SMEs have historically played a key role in creating high-quality local employment opportunities, especially for young people moving into the world of work. But small businesses that the LPC works with often cite the complexity of navigating the apprenticeship system, as well as cost, as key barriers to taking on apprentices.

The LPC says that this National Apprenticeships Week, the government must ensure that young people are not left behind in its mission to level-up skills. The promise of an enhanced apprentice recruitment service for SMEs is a welcome sign, but the levelling up skills mission needs to be backed by increased support for small business to access apprenticeships and other skills programmes, according to the organisation.

Anna Ambrose, Director of the London Progression Collaboration, said:

“The collapse in entry-level apprenticeships is bad for young people at the beginning of their careers and it’s bad for small businesses. Apprentices are now on average older and studying higher-level apprenticeships than they were in 2015.

“Small businesses are a crucial part of the apprenticeship ecosystem because they create entry-level apprenticeships, yet they haven’t been employing apprentices anywhere near the numbers we’ve previously seen.

“Apprenticeships are a key pathway to a high-quality job, lifting people out of poverty – and they deliver the greatest benefits to those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Upskilling reduces the burden on local authorities and the Department for Work and Pensions, and it creates dividends for local economies as they continue their post-Covid-19 recovery. 

“On all measures, apprenticeships have to be at the heart of the levelling up skills mission. And this won’t achieve its aims unless small businesses are supported, both practically and financially, to create the opportunities their communities need.

“The good news is that large businesses can play a part in this right now, via the transfer of their unspent apprenticeship levy funds to pay for SME apprenticeships. To date, the London Progression Collaboration has secured over £9 million from 70 of London’s levy-payers, which has helped us to create more than one in every 100 apprenticeships across London over the last financial year.”

North East233001800017300-26%
East Midlands359002860028100-22%
East of England383003230031800-17%
South West439003710036400-17%
West Midlands457003690036100-21%
Yorkshire and The Humber473003770036500-23%
South East563004780049000-13%
North West583004700045900-21%
Apprenticeship starts for 2014/15 to 2020/21, by Regions
Age groupStarts by year
Under 199,5507,4006,5904,8003,880
LPC analysis of apprenticeship starts by age across the Greater London Authority, 2016/17 to 2020/21
Starts by year
LPC analysis of apprenticeship starts by age across the Greater London Authority, 2016/17 to 2020/21, as percentage change

Sector Response

Tom Bewick

Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies and the presenter of the Skills World Live Radio Show

“It’s time for the government in England to stop pretending everything is rosy in the apprenticeships garden. While there are many fantastic providers and brilliant apprentices, including assessment organisations, we cannot ignore the failures at the system level that have taken place over the past decade. The brutal fact is that the 2012 Richard Review has failed. It promised more employers taking on apprentices. Today, we have fewer companies involved. The public sector has consistently failed to lead by example, by not meeting the statutory 2.3% apprenticeship target.

“Government officials said in 2015 that more young people would benefit, yet we’ve witnessed the scheme become the preserve of older workers. Ministers said that quality would massively improve, when in reality, we still see ten in every one hundred apprentices receiving inadequate training according to Ofsted. Withdrawal (drop-out) rates are higher on new apprenticeships standards than they were on the old frameworks. Meanwhile, we have a system of agencies and quangos that lack transparency and are highly secretive when it comes to sharing and being held to account on the performance data.

“Until we confront these facts, including the latest report showing a massive decline in entry level (Level 2) apprentices, England will continue to be ranked in the bottom league of world-class apprenticeships.”

Simon Ashworth, AELP Director of Policy, has issued the following quote in relation to the story below:

“London Progression Collaboration (LPC) research shows a significant fall in entry-level apprenticeship uptake since 2014. This comes as little surprise to AELP. The current apprenticeship system is a big barrier to non-levy payers, who have traditionally driven entry level starts. The now withdrawn enhanced employer incentives gave a welcome boost to entry level apprenticeships numbers and started to reverse the decline. Furthermore, the lack of replacement apprenticeship standard for the popular level 2 business administration framework has resulted in a vital entry point disappearing.

“Targeted and extended employer incentives, making the apprenticeship system easier for small employers to use, and a replacement Business Administrator level 2 standard would go a long way to reversing the disappointing figures outlined in the LPC research.”

Naomi Phillips, Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Policy and Research at Learning and Work Institute:

“A fall in entry-level apprenticeships is concerning because these roles are an essential foundation for progression into work. The drop for young people is particularly worrying given youth long-term unemployment is still much higher than pre-pandemic levels, and 13.3% of the youth population not in employment, full-time education or training. We need to see a more joined up approach across Government, employers and providers to ensure that important schemes such as apprenticeships and traineeships, have high take up.  

We’re calling for a Youth Guarantee, ensuring every 16-24 year olds is offered a job, training place or apprenticeship. It’s vital that we proactively engage young people and get them the support they need, and that we ensure apprenticeships and other opportunities for people of all ages changing career and looking to build their skills.”

Hear SMEs that The LPC has supported and their apprentices speak in their own words about the impact of the apprenticeships on themselves and their businesses:

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