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'Increased administrative burden’ of Apprenticeship Levy blamed for 26.5% decline in new starters

IMI chief executive Steve Nash

The IMI has claimed that a combination of confusion surrounding the Apprenticeship Levy and the “increased administrative burden” it placed on employers could be to blame for a 26.5% decline in new apprentices.

Data published by the government’s Departments for Education revealed that the decline from 155,600 apprenticeship starters in Q1 of the 2016-17 academic year to 114,000 in 2017-18 could be attributed to the introduction of the new system in April last year.

While the IMI has taken the opportunity to once again call on the government to re-think its approach to vocational training, the figures were branded “alarming” by CBI managing director Neil Carberry, who said that the DfE’s report proved that “the Apprenticeship Levy isn’t yet working for businesses, apprentices and the economy”. 

Carberry added: “A fresh approach is needed to make skills reforms work. The CBI will continue in its calls to government to evolve the Apprenticeship Levy into a flexible skills levy, so firms can fund training for their people whatever the form of high quality course they do.

“And policy makers must collaborate more closely with businesses and learning providers to design a stable national framework for skills.”

The IMI said in a statement that the slump could be attributed to “a combination of confusion amongst employers about the new processes, reluctance by smaller employers to take on what they see as an increased administrative burden and simple inertia in the transition from the old apprentice Frameworks to the new Standards”.

Figures show an overall drop of 61% in apprenticeship starts across all sectors since the introduction of the Levy, but IMI chief executive Steve Nash said that the automotive sector had seen a smaller decline of 15% during the period.

Nash said: “Perhaps reflects the fact that apprenticeships are a long established entry into automotive, with many excellent employers offering first class schemes.

“But this is still a serious issue in a sector hungry for new talent. We can only expect this to improve if government take steps to significantly improve the quality and availability of careers advice in schools.”

The IMI is now calling for government to take action to address the existing shortfall in apprentices by accelerating their proposed investment in careers advice in schools. 

Nash said: “The IMI surveyed parents and young people to find that over 80% of parents said they would choose university over an apprenticeship for their children. It’s clear that reforming apprenticeships alone is not enough.

“Far more needs to be done to educate both children and their parents on the alternatives to University if the government is to reach its aim of gaining an even balance between those opting for the traditional higher education route and those choosing vocational learning.”    

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