Are Apprenticeship Programmes Successful in the UK?


In 2017/18 academic year, there were 376,000 total apprenticeship starts in England. This was down from 495,000 starts the previous academic year. Does this fall in numbers mean that the apprenticeship programme is becoming less successful in the UK?

Of those who took part in an apprenticeship programme in the 2017/18 academic year, 91.7% of those aged 19+ said they were satisfied with the quality of the training. Furthermore, 89.9% of those ages 16-18 said the same. However, only 54% of employers were extremely likely to recommend their apprenticeship training provider in 2017/18 compared to 57% in 2016/17.

It looks as though 2017/18 may have been a bump in the road for apprenticeships. Pin badges retailer Badgemaster explores further.

Demographics for apprenticeship starts 2017/18

Apprenticeships are an appealing option, and not only for school-leavers. In 2017/18, of the 376,000 apprenticeship starts, 41% were over the age of 24. This was a slight decrease from 46% in the previous academic year, but hardly a dramatic fall.

Of course, the option of an apprenticeship is still popular for those leaving school and not wanting to pursue academia. In the last academic year, 28% of apprenticeship starts were by those under the age of 19. This was an increase on 2016/17’s figure, where 25% of starts were in that age range.

Sectors benefiting from apprenticeships

In terms of sector success with apprenticeships, there are four sectors who stand out year-on-year:

  • Business Administration and Law
  • Health, Public Service and Care
  • Engineering and Manufacturing
  • Retail and Commercial Enterprise

These four sectors made up 83% of apprenticeship starts in 2017/18, only a slight drop on 86% of the shares in 2016/17. According to a report by the UK government:

  • Business Administration and Law saw 111,000 apprenticeship starts (-27,000 on 2016/17)
  • Health, Public Service and Care saw 88,000 apprenticeship starts (-51,000 on 2016/17)
  • Engineering and Manufacturing saw 59,000 apprenticeship starts (-16,000 on 2016/17)
  • Retail and Commercial Enterprise saw 54,000 apprenticeship starts (-21,000 on 2016/17)

The overall decrease in apprenticeship starts this last academic year is being attributed to the new apprenticeship funding system that was introduced in May 2017. One of the major changes brought in included the apprenticeship levy, which may have impacted how many apprentices a business took on, particularly of those aged 16-25.

Employer attitudes

For the 2017/18 academic year, 92.4% of employers with 250+ employees stated that they were happy with the quality of training during the apprenticeship programme. Those with less than 10 employees, however, were less satisfied, with 89.1%.

Still, the rating across the board is consistently high. Given the skills shortage currently being felt across a number of UK sectors, it is promising to see that so many are embracing apprenticeships as a potential fix to this issue. Not only do apprenticeships give employers a chance to plug this skills gap, it also offers apprentices a chance to train while on the job. All this is possible at a fraction of the cost of training a standard new employee — it’s easy to see why employers prefer this option.

Looking ahead

Although the last academic year saw some apprentice numbers fall compared to the year before it, it seems that this is set to change. The numbers currently reporting in for the academic year 2018/19 are looking much stronger. There have been around 35,625 apprenticeship starts per month between August 2018 and March 2019. The total starts for this time range is 285,000 — it’s clear the programme is still a success in the UK.

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