Apprenticeship numbers and attainment fall across borough

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A FOCUS on academic subjects by schools and lack of skills among young people may be to blame for ‘concerning’ falls in apprenticeship numbers and attainment, a report has claimed.

Figures in a report to Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Places Overview and Scrutiny Committee revealed there had been a 21% drop in the number of apprenticeships in the borough between 2018 and 2020, from 2,437 to 1,927.

It said that although this was partly due to the pandemic, apprenticeships had not been in a strong position ‘for some time’, and found an increasingly concerning fall in achievement rates of young people aged 16-18 who were on apprenticeship programmes.

The report said some of the reasons were that:

  • Schools encourage pupils to undertake A-levels or progress onto university, feeling more comfortable promoting an academic rather than vocational route. The report said: “Schools, particularly those with sixth forms, are keen to maintain student numbers and the associated funding by keeping them in their 6th forms. Recent changes in policy now insist schools promote apprenticeship opportunities with their students.”
  • Smaller businesses are unable to support a new, inexperienced recruit if they need to maintain performance, opting instead to recruit a more experienced adult. Further employer incentives have been introduced because of the pandemic, however, the report said there was no data available to show whether this has had a positive impact yet.
  • Apprentices are expected to spend 20% of their time training off-the-job. A small employer with limited profit margins may not be able to accommodate this and would rather opt for a full-time operational person.
  • Not all roles will have an associated apprenticeship standard developed. This was particularly true in digital or green sectors; largely because these sectors are developing faster than training providers/awarding bodies can adapt, develop provision, and recruit qualified and experience staff to ensure effective delivery.

The report also found that large employers who do recruit annual cohorts of apprentices had reported not seeing the right qualities, attributes, and transferable skills they need in the young people coming forward such as demonstrating the ability to learn, to problem solve, collaborate, and demonstrate they are proactive and resilient.

The Government’s Skills for Jobs programme includes an employer incentive of £3,000 for any apprentice recruited between April 1 and September 30 this year, as part of a package of measures to boost economic recovery.

The council said it will also be maintaining its own support measures. The report added: “The council has also piloted a discretionary pot of funding to support young people to access apprenticeship opportunities.

“This funding has covered interview clothing, uniform, equipment and additional training costs not met through existing funding routes. This will be continuing in 2021-22.”