Entry-level apprenticeship starts down by three-quarters in eight years, campaigners warn

Experts call for system to be ‘rebalanced’ to give young people a greater share of opportunities

The number of new entry-level apprenticeship starts has fallen by almost three-quarters (72 per cent) since 2014/15, analysis has found, leading to warnings that younger people could be missing out on opportunities.

At the same time the analysis, conducted by the London Progression of Collaboration (LPC), also revealed that new higher level apprenticeship starts – often taken by older workers – increased by 400 per cent during the same period.

The analysis also found that people under the age of 19 now make up just 11 per cent of new apprenticeship starts: the number of new starters in this age group fell from 9,550 in 2016/2017 to 3,880 in 2020/2021 – a drop of 59 per cent.

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Anna Ambrose, director of the LPC, said the “collapse” in the number of new entry-level apprenticeships starts was “bad for young people at the beginning of their careers”.

“Apprenticeships are a key pathway to a high-quality job, lifting people out of poverty – and they deliver the greatest benefits to those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds,” she said, adding that apprenticeships needed to be “at the heart” of the government’s levelling up mission.

Commenting on the findings, Lizzie Crowley, senior skills adviser at the CIPD, said the research showed that the apprenticeship system was “not a strong pathway” into the labour market for young people.

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“Apprenticeships mainly go to those aged over 25 years old and to existing employees, and the introduction of the apprenticeship levy has only intensified this long-run trend, with many employers now concentrating their investment on professional and managerial apprenticeships,” she said.

Crowley added that the levy system should be “rebalanced” so young people can access a greater share of opportunities, arguing that reforming the system into a more flexible skills levy “would enable employers to develop existing staff through other forms of accredited training, which are often cheaper and more effective”.

“In turn this would free up more funds to offer apprenticeships to young people who need them most,” she said.

The LPC is an initiative to create new apprenticeships which help low paid Londoners to progress in work, and is supported by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).