Apprenticeship start rates drop during recession despite government funding

A “worrying” drop in the number of 16- to 18-year-olds starting apprenticeships over the past year has raised serious concerns about the government’s employment strategy for young people, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has warned.

Releasing the apprenticeship figures for the academic year 2008-09 today, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills focused on the fact that 143,400 people completed their apprenticeship – a 27.4% rise on the previous 12 months – and the statistics that showed that 239,900 people started an apprenticeship, a 6.8% rise on 2007-08.

But the figures also revealed a 7.5% drop in the number of 16- to 18-year-olds starting apprenticeships in 2008-09 (to 99,000), with a 5.9% drop in 19- to 24-year-olds starting schemes (to 84,700).

Tom Richmond, skills adviser at the CIPD, told Personnel Today these particular figures “strongly suggested” that the government’s policy was faltering.

“Given the government’s reliance around apprenticeships to address youth unemployment, these figures are very worrying,” he said. “It shows that it is not targeting employers well enough. I was astonished at the drop.”

Earlier this week, the government announced that a subsidy of £2,500 will be offered to 5,000 firms for taking on young apprentices, but Richmond said this was not enough.

“We have been calling for a proper workplace subsidy that helps employers cover the cost of wages as well as the training,” he said. “It needs to be much broader than was announced this week and not on a first-come, first-served basis.”

Nigel Fletcher, education and skills adviser at manufacturers’ body the EEF, said the increase in apprenticeship completions was an encouraging sign. However, he added: “Problems in meeting demand will exist as long as employers face uncertainty over funding levels. With skills so vital to the economy, now is not the time to turn off the tap.”

Apprenticeships minister Kevin Brennan insisted the overall trend was positive.

“This government has rescued and rebuilt apprenticeships from a low base in 1997, making significant investments and trebling apprenticeship numbers in order to provide opportunities for people to train for the jobs of the future,” he said.

“We know that business values the apprenticeship highly because this training is providing the skilled workers British businesses need for the future, and government remains committed to making it easier for businesses to offer them.”

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