Mixed response to Apprenticeship increases

The number of people starting Apprenticeships has more than doubled over the past year, new figures have revealed.

Provisional data shows there were 442,700 apprenticeship starts between August 2010 and July 2011, compared to 279,700 in 2009 to 2010.

The findings have been hailed by Business Secretary Vince Cable but greeted with scepticism by some who say the growth in Apprenticeships is not in the right age groups or in the necessary sectors.

Further and Higher Education policy officer for the University and College Union (UCU), John Offord, claimed the statistics were misleading.

“This is not something to be breaking out the champagne for,” warned Offord.

He said many of schemes offered to young people were not Apprenticeships in the traditional sense with some lasting only 12 weeks.

“I would question whether this is anything more than a little bit of government re-categorising to shift people out of the not in education, employment or training (NEET) category and into these so-called apprenticeships,” he added.

The news comes as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimates that education spending will fall by over 13% between 2010-11 and 2014-15 including a £200m cut to the budget of career services. Offord said that many of the people taking up these new Apprenticeships could have instead benefited from terminated policies like Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

Critics have warned the growth is not in the necessary age groups as the biggest rise was in the over-25s. The data from Statistical First Release (SFR) show there were 175,500 Apprenticeship starts by those aged 25 and over, a 257% rise on the 49,100 starts the previous year.

Meanwhile, the under-19 age group saw a smaller 10% increase from 116,800 in 2009-10 to 128,300 in 2010-11. There was a 22% rise in those aged 19 to 24 starting Apprenticeships, up to 138,900 from 113,800 over the same time period.

Welcoming the Apprenticeship growth, the Business Secretary said: “This Government’s unprecedented investment in Apprenticeships is working for businesses and creating long term career opportunities for record numbers of trainees.”

The National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) also welcomed the findings, with a spokesperson saying: “This is not only great news for young people, but also for employers and the economy.”

However, some sectors are concerned by the relatively modest uptake of Apprenticeships in key growth areas when compared with those in retail and business.

Business, Administration and Law Apprenticeships rose by 70% and Retail and Commercial Enterprise increased by 63%, whereas Construction, Planning and the Built Environment rose by 5% and Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies by 24%.

Stephanie Fernandes, of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), said: “If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy towards manufacturing then focus needs to be provided to ensure apprenticeship funding is targeted on this sector. A 24% increase in engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships against a backdrop of a 50% increase across all sectors, should be cause for concern.”

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills said funding for Apprenticeships has been increased in 2011-12 to over £1.4bn including a £25m fund to support up to 10,000 Advanced Level and Higher Apprenticeships.

Cable pledged to “drive up standards, cut bureaucracy for smaller firms and deliver more advanced level and high tech training.”

Lewis Dyson

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