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Mishandling of levy reforms sees apprenticeship opportunities slump

Mark Dawe

Thousands of young people receiving their A-level results on Thursday will be disappointed to find that the debt-free choice of a higher or degree level apprenticeship may not be available to them. Mark Dawe, CEO – AELP.

This comes five years after former Prime Minister David Cameron said he wanted it to ‘to be the new norm for young people to either go to university or into an apprenticeship’. Latest government data shows that apprenticeships opportunities for 19-24 year olds slumped by a quarter to 179,200 at all levels in the first 9 months of 2017-18 following the introduction of the apprenticeship levy.  Apprenticeship training providers are blaming the fall on the government’s mishandling of the reforms which have led in particular to a sharp decline in the number of apprenticeships being offered by small and medium-sized businesses. The large levy paying employers are also understandably taking their time in rolling out new or expanded apprenticeship programmes.

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) recognises that the number of higher and degree apprenticeship opportunities is increasing but the total of 11,200 for 19-24 year olds for the first 9 months of 2017-18 is minuscule compared with the 421,000 English student applications to university which will reportedly be easy for the universities to accommodate this year in the current ‘buyer’s market’.  The spread of apprenticeship opportunities across the country will also be very uneven because most levy paying employers who now account for the majority of them are located in London and the south east or in larger cities elsewhere.

Taking information from its member training providers who engage with 380,000 employers, AELP has identified which aspects of the apprenticeship reforms are responsible for the disastrous overall fall in opportunities and presented these to the government with proposed solutions to correct them.  One of these is to suspend charging SMEs for taking on young apprentices.  The association believes that the government is taking far too long to act after months of decline and that it should also use its post 18 review of education and funding to help boost numbers.

AELP CEO Mark Dawe said: ‘Ministers are right to hail the rising quality of apprenticeships and the arrival of degree apprenticeships as potential game-changers for offering an alternative to a traditional degree.  Both enable young people to earn while they learn on the way to a successful career without saddling themselves with £50,000 of debt.

‘But until rectified, the flaws in the apprenticeship funding system mean that for many this alternative is not yet available to them and so expectations have to be realistically managed.  We are still a long way from a genuine choice being the ‘new norm’ and we urge the government to immediately make the necessary changes to stop its aspiration becoming another failed promise.

‘In the meantime, we would advise young people to research carefully the higher and degree apprenticeship opportunities advertised online on the government’s ‘Find an apprenticeship’ service or on the UCAS apprenticeship website.  While the numbers may be modest, there are still some fantastic opportunities out there with some big name employers.’

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