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Plunge in apprentice numbers highlights fears over quality of training

A fresh plunge in the number of people starting apprenticeships and growing concerns about the quality of training have sparked further criticism of a shake-up of the system.
New figures from the Department for Education revealed a 25pc plunge in the number of people starting apprenticeships.
Just 232,700 apprenticeships were begun between the start of the year for the training programmes in August 2017 and February, compared with 309,000 in the same period the previous year.
The declines are being blamed on the Apprenticeship Levy which was introduced in April last year, and which critics say has caused confusion among businesses.
Industry bodies including the Institute of Directors (IoD), manufacturers’ association EEF and CBI have campaigned for the levy to be reformed. They welcomed its aims, but have consistently warned that in its current form it is damaging training and needs to be rejigged.
Plunge in apprentice numbers highlights fears over quality of training

Seamus Nevin, head of policy research at the IoD said: “These figures yet again show that the system is not working as intended. How much more evidence does the Government need before it takes action? While the motivation behind the policy is laudable, the execution is flawed.”
There are also concerns about whether low quality training schemes are being “rebadged” as apprenticeships to attract funding. A recent report by think-tank Reform claimed that 40pc of apprenticeships do not meet the “historical or international definition of an apprenticeship”, and typically “offer minimal training, represent low-wage jobs and do not constitute skilled occupations”.
“This isn’t helping to meaningfully boost the skills of British workers,” Mr Nevin added. “If we want to boost skills, productivity and wages then the system must be reformed.”
EEF raised similar concerns, highlighting the 29pc year-on-year drop in the number of people starting higher level apprenticeships, and a 24pc decline in advanced apprenticeships.
Plunge in apprentice numbers highlights fears over quality of training

The cost of setting up technical apprenticeships is putting some training providers off them
Verity Davidge, EEF head of education and skills, said: “The falls in higher and advanced apprenticeships are a clear warning that standards are dropping.
“Employers say they are having trouble finding colleges and training providers to offer apprenticeships at these levels,” she said, adding that the costs of setting up the often technical courses are a major hurdle.
Under the levy, every business with a wage bill of ?3m or more must pay 0.5pc of their staff cost into a fund topped up by the Government to finance training.
Almost 20,000 companies are affected by the levy but the system - expected to raise more than ?2bn - has faced criticism that it is too complex for smaller companies to navigate, and it is too inflexible. Others have labelled it as a stealth tax on businesses.
The Government is committed to hitting its 2015 manifesto pledge of 3m people starting apprenticeships by 2020.
Apprenticeships Minister Anne Milton said: "The number of people starting on the old style apprenticeships has fallen, but the number of people starting on our new, higher-quality apprenticeships are increasing well beyond our expectations. We won’t sacrifice that quality to increase quantity."
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