Forcing employers to set aside money for workplace training through the apprenticeship levy has helped those already in jobs at the expense of school leavers and those at the beginning of their careers, according to a new report.
Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships, equivalent to GCSE and A level qualifications, dropped significantly after April 2017 when employers with wage bills over £3m were first made to set aside an equivalent of 0.5 per cent of this sum for workplace training.
What growth there was came in the number of higher level apprenticeship schemes, equivalent to bachelor’s degrees and above, accounting for 12.8 per cent of apprenticeship starts in 2017/18 compared with 5.3 per cent two years earlier.
This is of concern because 65 per cent of the new higher level programmes went to people aged over 25, most of whom were already employed by the organisation funding them, according to Kathleen Henehan, research and policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation.
To create more balance, the Resolution Foundation proposed a new ruling that at least half of new apprenticeships should go to new starters and at least half to people aged under 30.
“A more concentrated system that prioritises genuine learning and development is ultimately a better investment than a larger one providing poorer outcomes and fewer genuine opportunities,” Ms Henehan said.
Since the government introduced reforms to apprenticeships there has been an increase in the quality of training schemes being offered, the Resolution Foundation noted.
However, it claimed that this was more due to the tightening up of rules defining the form workplace training must take than the switch to the funding of such schemes through the levy.
There was a 26 per cent drop in new apprenticeship starts between 2015/16 and 2017/18, but most of this decline was among those schemes that failed to meet the new requirement of 20 per cent off-the-job training rather than the levy, according to Ms Henehan.
“Rather than being a cause for concern, the recent drop in apprenticeship starts has been driven by a welcome fall in many low-value apprenticeship programmes,” she said.
“Policymakers should stick to their guns on quality improvements but ensure apprenticeships deliver their core purpose by requiring firms to spend half of their apprenticeship funding on new starters and half on workers aged under 30.”
Rob Wall, head of policy for the Chartered Management Institute, defended the rise in higher level workplace training schemes, noting that recent research by the CMI found almost three in five parents felt degree apprenticeships were better than traditional university study.
“There have never been as many high level apprenticeships as we have now,” he said. “That is something we should celebrate.”
Allocating a certain percentage of apprenticeships to younger people was misguided in an age when people of all ages will need to retrain to keep up with technological developments, Mr Wall added.
“Given developments like artificial intelligence we are going to need to reskill on an industrial scale,” he said. “But of course this should not come at the expense of young people.”