Published: 00:02, 05 October 2017
Fewer young people are taking apprenticeships because big employers are opting to train their present staff instead, following the introduction of a government tax, official figures indicate.
The number of apprentice vacancies in the UK looks set to drop by about 12% in 2016-17 according to an analysis of 11 months of government data by East Kent College.
The biggest decline is among level 2 courses, the earliest level available.
Graham Razey, the principal of East Kent College and Canterbury College, said the introduction of the apprenticeship levy is to blame for the forecast decline.
The levy was brought into force in April and charges a 0.5% tax on companies with a paybill of more than £3 million.
Bosses can claim back money paid into the levy if they use it for training but, rather than hiring young people, firms have opted to upskill their present staff, according to Mr Razey.
“It appears to me employers are less likely to advertise apprenticeships for 16 to 17-year-olds,” he said.
“It appears to me employers are less likely to advertise apprenticeships for 16 to 17-year-olds...” - Graham Razey, East Kent College
“These are students who have just got their GCSEs or not even got them yet, who are going onto the first rung of a trade.
“The biggest growing apprenticeship standard at the moment is team leading and management.
"Employers are effectively using the current framework to upskill their workforce.
“You’ve also got organisations who are waiting.
“This is a new policy and they don’t want to be early adopters so they’re playing the waiting game. That impacts on the market.”
The comments reignite the debate on apprenticeships driven by the Kick Start Kent campaign, launched by Kent Business in the spring.
The initiative aims to ensure the apprenticeship levy is administered properly and to improve standards to make sure more people finish their apprenticeship courses.
Mr Razey believes employers will begin hiring more young people in the long term to claim back the apprenticeship levy, once they finish training their present staff.
However, he believes “there is a danger” the government will miss its target to create three million new apprenticeships by 2020.
To try to meet the goal, he believes some existing training courses may be rebranded as apprenticeships. He pointed to accountancy as a good example where this is happening.
He said: “The reality is where you set a numerical target, behaviours will happen to try to achieve that target.
“I like the idea of professions going towards apprenticeships. It adds more prestige to the apprenticeship brand.
“However it does confuse the target because these jobs were in existence but they weren’t called apprenticeships.
“We need to be clear about how many new opportunities are being created because that will be the mark of the success of the levy and other apprenticeship changes.”