Published: 00:05, 24 February 2017
College bosses have said it is “appalling” that the number of apprenticeships being completed in Kent is lagging well behind the number started.
Just over half the apprenticeships started in the county ended with candidates finishing the course in seven of the last 10 years, official figures indicate.
In three of the last five years there were fewer than half the number of apprenticeships completed compared to those started, according to statistics from the Department for Education and Skills Funding Agency.
It comes as businesses prepare for reforms coming into force in April designed to increase the number of people taking the route.
These include the apprenticeship levy, which will make all large employers with a wage bill of more than £3 million pay a 0.5% tax on their pay bill, which will be used to fund apprenticeship training.
There are concerns the measures will be a failure unless the number of people completing apprenticeships gets closer to the numbers started each year.
In 2010/11, there were 11,480 apprenticeships started acrss Kent but only 4,730 completed – equivalent to 41%.
The percentage of completions has been below 60% for seven of the last 10 years.
The KM Group is launching a new Kick Start Kent campaign to raise awareness of the shortfall and put pressure on the government, training providers and employers to improve standards.
The campaign led to 88 employers hiring an apprentice when it was first launched three years ago – attracting the endorsement of the Duke of York – but has shifted focus to the number of apprenticeship completions to help deal with the county’s shortage of a skilled workforce.
“I think it’s appalling,” said Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, joint chief executive and principal of Hadlow Group, which runs Hadlow College, West Kent College and Ashford College among others.
“A 56% success rate [in 2013/14] is dreadful. That means for every 10 apprentices five are brilliant and five aren’t good enough. That is rubbish.
“Success rates have got to rise. That comes down to responsibility from employers to make sure they are not treating apprentices as cheap labour.
“They have a duty of care for that learner otherwise they are just factory churn.”
There is a large variation across Kent, with Rochester and Strood leading the way for apprenticeships in the county.
Cllr Alan Jarrett, leader of Medway Council, said the government must resist the temptation to chase “sexy” targets at the expense of quality provision.
The government has an ambition for three million people to have started an apprenticeship nationally by the end of this Parliament in 2020.
Cllr Jarrett said: “It could be a parallel with the previous government saying they want 50% of the population going to university.
“That was not 50% to study engineering or key drivers of the economy. They just wanted everyone to go to university and it didn’t matter if they did hairdressing or origami.
“It’s about providing apprenticeships to give people the skills they need to get into the employment market.
“The government has set this target and like a lot of targets it has not been thought through.
“Someone in Whitehall has said three million sounds like a sexy number. They have said ‘we’ve got to have a set number and it doesn’t matter where they are’.
“The success rates should be much better but I think it will change..." - Chris Hare, MidKent College
“Surely that says people will be apprentices in places where those job skills in the apprenticeship programme aren’t needed.”
There were doubts raised about whether the figures are as bad as they seem.
Pauline Smith, a former director of supporting independence at Kent County Council, who is chief executive of Ashford-based young people’s charity CXK, said: “You can’t assume that because there is only 55% achievements that the other 45% are disengaged.
“The easy assumption is that the 45% have failed but many will have had an alternative positive outcome.
“An employer may have a permanent job come up and ask the apprentice to go for it.”
The national apprenticeship success rate is 71.7%, a figure which MidKent College executive director Chris Hare said providers in the county should be targeting.
He said: “The success rates should be much better but I think it will change. New standards coming into force in April are more realistic. The current frameworks are very old.
“These tailored programmes will meet employer and apprentice needs. There will be less room for the apprentice to become disinterested.”
The KM Group is launching the Kick Start Kent campaign aimed at creating a better environment for employers to hire apprentices and for people to start a career using the route.
The campaign was first run three years ago, when it led to 88 employers hiring an apprentice in the county, and is returning to champion apprenticeships again.
Its key focuses are:
The government set itself a target of getting three million people to start apprenticeships by 2020 but this figure is worthless unless people are finishing the courses and benefiting the economy. What can be done to improve completion rates?
Are measure like the apprenticeship levy being correctly and fairly administered and improving the environment for apprenticeships?
Are schools, colleges and parents making students aware of the option?