The government has published its experimental apprenticeship service statistics to August 2017, showing apprenticeship service account registrations, and ‘commitments’ to apprenticeship starts by age, level and academic year.
The data itself is striking in its insight into the new world of apprenticeships, following the launch of the Levy. It reveals that only 55% of employers have signed up to use their Levy account. This means just under half of Levy paying employers are currently writing this off as a tax, without signing up to see how much their Levy payments will get them.
Will this number increase? This, in itself, poses a catch-22. The skills-gap, the future of apprenticeships, upskilling our workforce, is hinged on the way in which employers put the Levy ‘to work’. However, it must be said that the Levy system appears to be based upon Levy-paying employers under- claiming from the overall Levy ‘pot’, leaving enough left over to fund the non-levy portion of the system.
How do we draw enough attention to the lack of uptake by Levy-paying employers, without squeezing out those for whom their uptake is based entirely on this lax attitude and leftovers?
What is concerning is the age profile of the apprentices of the new Levy based system. The data shows that only 21% of current commitments are for apprentices under 19 years of age and the majority of commitments currently undertaken are for learners aged 25 and over. The ESFA don’t view this as a problem – they feel that the new Levy system will need to reflect the will of employers, and therefore the collapse in under 19 apprentices is not a cause for concern.
For those of us in the sector, we could see this coming. The support and additional incentive payments for pre-19 apprentices are insufficient to cover the costs that younger apprentices inevitably incur in the workplace. The more attractive bet, as the data appears to indicate, is being placed on upskilling the current 19 + workforce with Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships. The ESFA are awaiting for more data before they will take steps to address this, but in the interim we may lose valuable opportunities for young people in some sectors of the economy.
This inevitably leads us back to the question: “what is the goal of apprenticeship reform?” If the above holds true, it is no longer a youth employment or social justice measure, but more of an employer responsive driver for reskilling the workforce. Does this align with the government’s overarching skills reform programme? We’ll see if a trend emerges over the first full year of the apprenticeship Levy.