Starts fell to 27,000 from 41,600

Apprentice Alamy

The Federation of Master Builders has urged the government to reform the apprenticeship levy scheme after the number of apprentices starting work dropped by over a third.

The number of apprenticeship starts in the UK fell to 27,000 in November last year from 41,600 in the same month in 2016, according to the Department for Education’s apprenticeship and levy statistics.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said while the figures were yet to be finalised they showed a clear downward turn in new apprenticeships.

He said: “Unfortunately, this is not altogether surprising given the intrinsic flaws in how the apprenticeship levy works.

“The lack of flexibility in the value of vouchers which large employers are able to pass down the supply chain to smaller subcontractors who work for them is a key issue.

“At present only 10% of vouchers are able to be passed down, however larger construction firms do not tend to directly employ large numbers of on-site tradespeople. This means that there is a real danger that these vouchers are not being spent on training the key skills that the industry so desperately needs.”

Berry said it was imperative these flaws were “ironed out” in order to address the sector’s skills crisis, especially with Brexit looming.

He said: “We need to recruit and train more new entrants but over two-thirds of SMEs in construction are facing difficulties hiring bricklayers. This has increased by nearly 10% in just three months which demonstrates the swift worsening of an already dismal situation.”

“Our access to EU workers in doubt, the next few years will bring extraordinary challenges to the construction industry. It’s only through close collaboration between the government and the construction sector that we will be able to overcome issues such as the skills crisis.”