Disappointing drop in apprenticeship starts but the fall has slowed, while growth of higher level courses offer hope

Published on Jobs, Skills and Pay


The number of apprenticeship starts in the crucial period of August to October 2017 fell to 114,400 – down 30 per cent on the year before. However this represents progress on the previous quarter – the first since the levy came into effect – when starts were down 60 per cent compared to the same period in the previous year, the Resolution Foundation said today (Thursday) in response to the latest Apprenticeship starts

The latest figures show that the number of starts overall fell by 30 per cent between Q1 2016-17 and Q1 2017-18. The biggest fall took place among level 2 apprenticeship for those aged 25 and over (down 56 per cent), though there were falls across all age groups for level 2 and 3 apprenticeships.

More positively, the 30 per cent growth in higher (level 4) apprenticeships highlight a positive shift in the kind of apprenticeships on offer.

The Foundation notes that meeting the government’s target of three million apprenticeship starts between 2015 and 2020 would require around 600,000 starts a year, and around 200,000 in the crucial first quarter of each year. The government is therefore currently well off its target, though there is plenty of time to get back on course.

It adds that for apprenticeships to be a success, the focus must be on quality as much as quantity, and that the criteria for funding courses since the apprenticeship levy came into effect may have caused a welcome drop in low-quality apprenticeships.

However, it adds that the government’s own apprenticeships survey has flagged quality concerns around courses, and that tackling this should be as big a priority as the target of three million starts.

Kathleen Henehan, Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“After years of growth, it’s disappointing to see a big drop in the number of apprenticeships start in the first crucial period since the levy came into effect.

“The hope is that much of this fall will even out as employers get used to the levy. More encouragingly, the number of higher level apprenticeships continues to grow.

“As well as striving to hit its ambitious target of three million starts, the government must put as much effort into raising the quality of apprenticeships so that they become a genuine alternative to more academic career paths.”