The number of people beginning an apprenticeship fell by almost a quarter (24%) in the first six months of the academic year.
There were 206,100 apprenticeships begun between August 2017 and January 2018, Department for Education statistics show, down from 269,600 that were started during the same period in 2016-17.
Of the apprenticeships started between August and January, 91,800 were funded by the collection of the apprenticeship levy, which began in April last year and sees all employers with a payroll of £3m or more contribute a percentage of their total payroll sum towards the funding of apprenticeship schemes.
The Government set a target of achieving three million apprenticeship starts by 2010, but the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) said the Government still had a lot of work to do to fully persuade employers to support the programme.
CMI chief executive Petra Wilson said: “Clarity will be essential as the Government continues to work with employers, particularly SMEs, to dial-up the apprenticeship programme.
“We urge the Government to remain firm in its commitment to the levy in its current format and existing funding bands. If the Government is to remain on track to reach its target of three million apprentices by 2020, it must help employers adjust to the new system without any further disruptions.”
Some organisations have called for the apprenticeship levy to be reformed to better align it with what employers would prefer the training fund to be used for.
Speaking at a conference in London yesterday (Thursday) Jane Gratton, head of skills at the British Chambers of Commerce, suggested that the inflexibility of the system made it “unfit for purpose”.
“For many levy payers it feels like a tax, or redirects funds set aside for other forms of workplace training.
“At the other end of the spectrum, the funding rules mean that SMEs are facing higher recruitment costs, and are unsure how and where to access quality training providers,” she said.
She called for more support for smaller business in accessing the funding, more time for organisations to source apprenticeship training (currently funds have to be used within two years) and the ability to pass a larger chunk of their training fund on to other organisations that do not pay the levy.
“Once the necessary reforms are made, a period of stability in the UK’s training system is needed to give businesses the certainty and confidence to engage and invest in the long-term,” Gratton added