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Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of AELP on the Future of Apprenticeships

Ahead of The Apprenticeships Conference on 16th July in London, Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) shares some key insights on the future challenges to national apprenticeship provision.

The Apprenticeships Conference is taking place a month after this year’s National Apprenticeship Week when we had the opportunity to celebrate the fantastic opportunities that apprenticeships bring to young people and the benefits to businesses up and down the country.  It was particularly inspiring to hear the apprentices themselves at various events eulogise how their training programmes had transformed their lives, whether it was an RAF apprentice going on to become a commissioned officer or a KPMG apprentice heading towards chartered qualification.

The only frustration amidst a very happy week was knowing that the number of available opportunities could be so many more.   The latest official statistics show that starts on the apprenticeship programme in England were just 27,000 last November, a staggering 40% decrease on the number twelve months before.  The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) estimates that nearly 180,000 starts per quarter are now needed to hit the government’s 3 million manifesto target compared with the 110,000 that began in the last quarter.

Skills minister Anne Milton believes that the numbers should be back on track by September 2018 and we hope that she is right.  But leaving aside that headline target, the real concerns should be the falling number of new apprenticeship opportunities for 16 to 24 year olds and at intermediate and advanced levels (levels 2 and 3).  In fact since the levy reforms were introduced in May of last year, the number of apprenticeship starts at level 2 have halved while starts for 16 to 18 year olds have fallen by 38%.

In yielding a billion pounds more for the programme’s budget, the apprenticeship levy is potentially a game-changer in the efforts to boost Britain’s productivity, as a vehicle for improving social mobility and for ‘growing our own people’ to fill post-Brexit skills shortages.  The introduction of new standards has given us an opportunity to improve the quality of apprenticeship training while the increase in the number of apprenticeships at higher and degree level is now giving young people a genuine choice over whether or not to go to university, knowing that apprenticeships mean no student debt and that the apprentices are earning while learning.

But we cannot deny that damage is being inflicted on the social mobility agenda because of the way the levy is being implemented. AELP is therefore calling for employers not be charged for taking on 16 to 24 year old apprentices, at least until April 2019 and for a guaranteed £1bn annual budget for non-levy employers to ensure that there are apprenticeship opportunities available across the whole of the country and all sectors.  The 20% off-the-job training rule is encountering huge resistance from employers of all sizes and it offers no indication that quality training is being delivered. In fact, the rule on its own can act as a deal-breaker which is really unfortunate when there are so many good things to be gained from the levy.  Furthermore it undermines decades of excellent practice of training and development and it was only introduced because of the one or two cases where government failed to spot fraudulent behaviour.

I look forward to hearing from the excellent speakers at the Apprenticeship Conference on how we can overcome these challenges because we can’t afford to let down the next generation of would-be apprentices with whom we can celebrate in future National Apprenticeship Weeks.

To hear from Mark Dawe and many more speakers, including the CEO of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and the Chief Executive of the Learning and Work Institute, join us at The Apprenticeship Conference 2020 on Thursday 16th July 2020 in Central London.