Provisional figures published by the DfE report Apprenticeship starts for August, September and October. This shows a 26% fall compared to the same quarter last year. The data for the previous quarter (May, June and July) reported a 61% fall in starts compared to the same time the previous year.
This equates to an overall fall of 41% since the levy was introduced in April 2017.
There has been a lot of commentary since the publication of yesterdays figures about the reason behind the fall, if this provides enough evidence to say that the governments policy is not working and whether the 3 million Apprenticeship target (a Conservative Party manifesto pledge) should be scrapped.
It is fair to say that many of us working in the sector predicted that the year following the levy would see a fall in starts. The anecdotal evidence we received from the business community was that they would use the levy to take pause and consider their entire skills and workforce strategy. Not only that but they had to also manage the new world of Standards instead of Frameworks, end point assessment and provider contracts; its been a major change for them, one that needs time to develop and be tested before it can grow.
It was predicted that the number of opportunities for 16-18 year olds and level 2 Apprenticeships would fall with the changes to employer incentives.
So is it time to panic and question the policy?
I think that the dust is settling, I believe that Apprenticeship starts will rise to new high levels in the coming years. I also think the quality of Apprenticeships are improving and the employers supporting them are fully bought in which has to be a success of this policy. Young people too, have grasped the value of Apprenticeships and are keen to find these routes into work.
I am not convinced that without some additional support that the 16-18 and level 2 numbers will rise significantly raising huge questions for me around social mobility.
I am also concerned that whilst we are in these early stages young people are being left behind. Businesses are offering Apprenticeships to their existing workforce and at higher levels, so the immediate impact on youth employment is worrying. Add to that, the fact that graduate recruitment numbers are dipping and yet the youth unemployment data from ONS is fairly static, you have to ask where our young people are during this time of change.
Is the number of young people “hidden” from the labour market rising as young people find the transition between education and employment even harder? If that is the case businesses when ready to bring in young people may find it hard to find them.
Whilst we have to give the policy reform more time (change this big does not happen over night), we must be ready to challenge the government regarding the impact it is having on youth unemployment and social mobility. The government will need to react quickly if our predictions are right and young people are falling through the net because the reform is leaving them behind.
In the meantime employers, providers and educators need to work together to ensure that young people are getting the right opportunities to develop their skills, experience and knowledge so that they can progress and know where the support is for them.