There were 14,200 fewer apprenticeship starts in February than in the same month last year

shutterstock apprentice

The number of total apprenticeship across the UK starts in February was 40% lower year-on-year, according to the latest figures from the Department of Education.

The data showed just 21,800 apprenticeships started in February 2018, compared with 36,000 in February 2017.

Between August 2017 and February 2018 there were 232,700 apprenticeship starts compared to 309,000 in the same period the year before, a drop of 25%.

Karen Jones, group HR director at Redrow, said that while government’s effort to boost apprenticeship uptake via the Apprenticeship Levy was commendable it appeared employers were not fully capitalising on the opportunity.

She said: “It is important for employers and Parliament to iron out their differences if the levy it is to work effectively across all sectors. 

“Apprenticeship uptake, particularly among lower-income, disadvantaged backgrounds where there is a pool of untapped talent could be boosted if the first year starting wage for an apprentice is raised in line with the National Minimum Wage.

“We must also remain mindful thatthe UK needs a highly skilled workforce so ensuring that we are getting the right kinds of people into the right kinds of jobs where need is most critical is of paramount importance. The Government recently explained that despite a drop in apprenticeship starts, more high quality apprenticeships are now in place and that it ‘won’t sacrifice that quality just to meet the target that was set’.” 

Jones said one way to boost apprenticeship uptake would be to change the academic requirements for those wishing to start training.

She said: “We can help develop high calibre talent by reviewing how apprenticeships are taught and the grades they need to pass the qualification. Our recent apprenticeships research discovered that many apprentices struggle to secure at least an equivalent C grade at GCSE Maths and English, which has to be achieved as part of an apprenticeship programme.

“Equipping individuals with applied skills rather than theoretical ones will help to ensure that the UK workforce is highly skilled to support long term growth.”

But it was not all doom for the construction sector, which Jones said was outperforming other industries.

“Construction is bucking the trend, with apprenticeship starts rising by 49% between 2012 and 2017, according to figures released recently by the Construction Industry Training Board,” she said.