Apprenticeships fall as employers ‘sideline’ schemes during recession

The number of under-25s starting apprenticeships has dropped by nearly 10% during the recession, signalling that employers are beginning to “sideline” on-the-job training placements.

Provisional figures for 2008-09 showed the number of 16-18-year-olds starting apprenticeships fell by 9.6% to 96,700, while the number of 19- to 24-year-olds beginning apprenticeships decreased by 8.7% to 82,300.

The number of 16- to 18-year-olds completing apprenticeships also dropped by 8.3% to 57,800.

A total of 234,000 apprenticeships were started in 2008-09 – up 4% – but this can be attributed to employers identifying existing staff as apprentices.

Tom Richmond, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s adviser on skills, said as demand for staff picked up, apprenticeships were unlikely to be a priority. He told Personnel Today: “There’s no reason to think apprenticeships will be the method of choice when it comes to building up a workforce.” This could lead to apprenticeships becoming “sidelined”, he said.

Linda Miller, senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), added: “There’s a continuing problem with engaging employers with apprenticeships and in a recession the hurdle becomes larger.

“It’s not the apprenticeship programme that’s the issue, it’s getting employed as an apprentice in the first place.”

The figures come as youth unemployment reached 945,000 in the three months to August.

Miller added the government’s decision to cut funding for apprentices aged 19 and over could put employers off hiring 19- to 24-year-olds. The government now offers 100% apprenticeship funding for 16- to 18-year-olds, and up to 50% funding for apprentices aged 19 and over.

The government has pledged to increase apprenticeship spending to more than £1bn this year, but Richmond warned: “If employers are not able to take on extra people that will balance up against the extra money the government is putting in.”

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokeswoman said: “We recognise that employers have struggled during the recession, and a reduction in employer recruitment has led to a slight fall in the number of young people aged 19 to 24 starting an apprenticeship.”

However, she stressed the figures were provisional, and by December, were likely to show a smaller drop in starts.

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