What does the future hold for the Apprenticeship Service?

Recent figures from the Department for Education (DfE) show that the amount of workers starting apprenticeships in England has fallen dramatically. The number of people beginning an apprenticeship between May and July 2016 was 117,000, a number which has fallen by more than half to 48,000 during the same period this year.

The sizeable drop has occurred since the introduction of the levy scheme by the government earlier this year, a move which was intended to increase the number of people training at work. It was hoped that the levy, payable by any organisation whose wage bill is over £3 million, would raise £2.5 billion annually to be spent on training. It was estimated that the levy would impact on 2% of businesses.

Whilst most firms will not have to pay the levy, medium-sized businesses with wage bills smaller than £3 million but with between 50 and 200 employees, now have additional responsibilities. Apprentices have to be released for off-site training one day a week, with the employer paying 10% of the training costs. It’s felt that this has also contributed to the declining popularity of apprenticeships.

Addressing how to remedy the problem, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), Mark Dawe, said: “There needs to be appropriate flexibility of off-the-job training. In addition, employers without levy funding should not be charged for training 16-24 year old apprentices. Without these actions, we do not believe the government will reach their manifesto commitment.”

There are plans to improve the current apprenticeship scheme in order to push numbers back up. For example, in April 2018 it will be possible for employers to transfer some of their unspent levy funds to another employer, fostering new relationships between employees and enabling larger employers to assist their smaller suppliers by providing funds for upskilling. This development will need to be implemented without considerably increasing admin, however, as many employers already want to see the amount of time spent managing apprenticeships reduced.