An increase in higher-level apprenticeships – but only for older learners

An increase in higher-level apprenticeships – but only for older learners 

A recent Department for Education Publication has provided up-to-date information on apprenticeships started over the 2018-19 academic year. There are some great statistics in there, which are unfortunately not currently available at regional level. For this piece we will have to assume that the statistics in London broadly map onto the national picture – not necessarily true, but until the DfE gathers this data at a regional or sub-regional level it’s the best we can do.  

The total number of starts this year shows that the downwards trend since the levy was introduced is continuing, though this year the decline was less pronounced. There were 161,400 apprenticeship starts in 2017/18, and 143,600 in 2018/19.  

More interesting though is the way that the level at which apprenticeships are started has changed. There has been a fall in starts at level 2 and below, and a rise in starts at level 4 and above. In theory this could look like great news. As we explain in our skills strategy, most of central London’s employment growth is concentrated among those with level 4 qualifications or above, while skills provision is at lower levels – mostly level 2 or below. This looks like a very positive trend in apprenticeship provision – taking on advanced and higher level apprenticeships will much better equip residents and employees to participate and progress in Central London’s highly competitive labour market.  

However, since the levy was introduced the share of starts taken up by younger people has fallen considerably (by 0.9 percentage points for 16-18 year olds, and 0.7 percentage points for 19-24 year olds). When we look at apprenticeships broken down by both level and age, you can see that the growth in higher level apprenticeships is almost entirely concentrated amongst those aged 25 and over. Admittedly, most 19year olds don’t have the qualifications to begin a higher level course, but there also has been very little growth in the 19-24 age group.  

The concern is that, rather than apprenticeships supporting new recruits or those with low skills to progress through the labour market, employers have rebadged existing roles as apprenticeships. This bears out in the data – in 2018-19 41% of apprentices had already worked for their employer for over a year. We have noticed this trend in Central London too, with local businesses choosing to use their apprenticeships programmes as workforce development tool, and the same pattern can be seen in our member boroughs’ apprenticeship provision. In close to half of our boroughs the majority of apprenticeship provision is provided to existing staff, rather than new recruits.  

While apprenticeships as workforce development can be very positive, we need to ensure that the role of apprenticeships as a tool to help those without qualifications is not lost. At a recent event hosted by Lambeth council, a number of apprentices shared their experiences. The people present had had very different experiences, but it was clear that the most successful apprenticeships were ones where apprentices received academic, work-related and pastoral support to encourage them to progress beyond their original role. Progression should be in-built into lower level apprenticeships so that those starting one in Central London can progress both inside and outside of the organisation in which they start their apprenticeship. Progression is a key priority for Central London, as explained in our skills strategy, and we are working on a number of projects and pieces of research to instil progression into the way boroughs employ apprentices, including through developing a pre-apprenticeship scheme with pastoral support at its core, and launching a piece of research into low pay in Central London, and how low-paid workers successfully progress into higher-paid employment.  

If you would like to work alongside us on any of our employment and skills work, which is outlined in further detail in our Skills Strategy, please email Meghan.Meek-O’     

Meghan Meek-O’Connor – 16.12.19