Funding for adult apprenticeships has been scaled back following pressure on government resources, Personnel Today can reveal.
The head of HR at a hospitality company who approached the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) about funding for an apprenticeship scheme has been told employers can no longer get funding for apprentices aged over 25, unless the apprentices are part of a small ‘priority group’ which includes women returners, the disabled, and those with no other level 2 qualification.
The source told Personnel Today: “The reason we were given was it’s a matter of policy at the LSC. They said it’s been capped because it’s oversubscribed, and this is the policy for the current funding year [starting in August].
“[The LSC] said if anything it will get worse, not better, as funding for 19 to 24 year-olds may well reduce as they focus on 16 to 18 year-olds.”
But a spokeswoman from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said some funding was still available for adult apprenticeships but this would only be given once apprentices in the priority group had received funding. She could not state how much funding would be made available as this depended on the level of demand from the priority group.
The spokeswoman said: “Apprenticeships for the over-25s will still be available, but demand as a whole will be managed to ensure targets set by the government are met. One way in which the National Apprenticeship Service will achieve this will be by asking training providers to focus adult apprenticeship funding on those that need it most.”
Our source warned reduced access to funding for adult apprentices could force some employers to stop offering apprenticeships.
They said: “I think employers could stop offering apprenticeships altogether, because on legal grounds and from a responsible employer’s point of view, it’s difficult to justify why [apprenticeships] are only being given to some people.”
Other HR directors said they were concerned funding restrictions for over-25s could encourage firms to deliberately exclude older workers from apprenticeship training to limit their costs.
Linda Scott, HR director of the British Transport Police, said: “It really will stop people taking on apprentices over 25.
“A lot of companies rely on government help to train their people and at the end of the day, employers will be very tempted to exercise some potentially discriminatory practices by picking people under 25 who attract the funding.”
But an employment lawyer warned the decision to take younger apprentices due to funding provisions could be seen as indirect age discrimination, and could cause older workers to pursue tribunal claims.
Guy Lamb, employment partner at DLA Piper, said: “The decision itself is not discriminatory as the employer has not chosen them because they are young but because of funding, but this is indirect discrimination as younger people are more likely to get chosen.
“There is certainly scope for applicants to bring age discrimination cases in relation to this.”
Lamb added a tribunal case would be needed to establish whether provision of funding could be used as a defence by employers.
Rachel Krys, campaign director for the Employers Forum on Age, said: “This decision is very negative for employers trying to remove barriers to work based on age. It sends the message that training and education is just about young people.”