One in five former apprentices are out of work, report suggests

Experts warn improved careers advice and progression structures vital for improving the return on investment for UK apprentices

A third of newly graduated apprentices are currently unemployed or working in a sector unrelated to their apprenticeship, a report has today revealed, with experts calling on businesses to improve progression structures to the system. 

A survey of more than 500 current or recent apprentices, conducted by charity the Young Women’s Trust, found one in five respondents (19 per cent) who completed their apprenticeship within the last two years were currently unemployed.

Almost one in five (18 per cent) were working in a sector not connected to their apprenticeship. 

In addition, 64 per cent of female apprentices and 54 per cent of male apprentices were worried about being unemployed after completing their apprenticeship. 

Lizzie Crowley, skills policy advisor at the CIPD, described the findings as “shocking, but not surprising”.

“We know people – especially on lower-level apprenticeships – often don’t progress to higher level ones, and in the UK there is no guaranteed return on investment,” Crowley told People Management

“In countries like Germany, apprentices are paid less, but when taking up the offer of an apprenticeship place they are guaranteed a strong return on that investment with a large wage return and a career, and the businesses gains a highly skilled individual. In the UK that is just not guaranteed,” she added.

More than three quarters (77 per cent) of survey respondents said their apprenticeship had given them new skills, and almost two-thirds (58 per cent) said apprenticeships were a better way to gain professional skills than university.

But despite this, financial barriers proved a significant challenge. Half (50 per cent) of respondents said they had considered dropping out of their apprenticeship early because of financial struggles, while 60 per cent reported being paid less than non-apprenticeship colleagues despite doing the same tasks. 

Dr Carole Easton, chief executive of the Young Women’s Trust, said the government must do more to make apprenticeships a financially appealing prospect, particularly for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

“If the government is serious about supporting more people into apprenticeships, it must significantly raise the apprentice minimum wage, or put apprentices onto the same rates as everyone else,” she said. 

Crowley added steps should be taken to support improved, structured progression for apprentices working in the UK. 

“Better careers advice and guidance would help people make more informed choices about what apprenticeship options can lead to a good career, and from a business perspective there should be a rethink around how these programmes are designed in the workplace,” she said. 

“Building apprenticeships into a structured career pathway to ensure young people have opportunities once their apprenticeship has been completed, or options for promotion within their organisation, would make a huge difference.”  

Beyond improving career advice services, the Young Women’s Trust recommended abolishing the apprenticeship minimum wage in favour of the National Living Wage, and called on the government to honour its 2017 election manifesto commitment to introduce significantly reduced bus and train travel for apprentices.

A spokesperson for the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the government agency responsible for funding education and training, told People Management the majority of employers paid over the apprenticeship minimum wage, but added action was being taken on increased financial support. 

“The minimum wage for apprentices will rise to £3.90 per hour from April 2019 – an increase of 5.4 per cent. In reality, most employers pay over the apprentice minimum wage and our most recent survey estimates the average apprenticeship pay for Level 2 and Level 3 apprentices is over £6 an hour,” they said. 

“However, we recognise that some groups face particular barriers to doing apprenticeships and are taking action. For example, in August we introduced a £1,000 bursary for care leavers aged 16-24 and starting apprenticeships.”