There has been a big fall in the number of workers starting apprenticeships since the introduction of the government’s apprenticeship levy earlier this year.
The levy was supposed to increase the number of people training at work.
But according to Department for Education figures, in the last three months of the 2017 academic year, 48,000 people began an apprenticeship.
That compared with 117,000 for the same period last year.
The levy was introduced to raise £2.5bn a year for training and is payable by any organisations with a wages bill of £3m or more. The government estimated that it would affect 2% of UK businesses.
The aim was to fund up to three million new apprenticeships.
In addition, firms with between about 50 and 200 staff now have to pay 10% of the cost of training apprentices, whereas previously they would have paid nothing. They also have to release staff for one day a week for off-site training, which has added to costs and made apprenticeships a less popular option.
The government has previously said the levy would “support productivity growth through the increase in training”.
It also said it expected there would be an initial drop-off in the number of people starting apprenticeships following the introduction of the levy.
Robert Halfon, who was apprenticeships and skills minister at the Department for Education until the reshuffle in June, said: “Initially the number of starts has gone down, but I suspect over the coming year they will go back up again.”
However, many industry experts say the scheme has been badly organised. They say the government’s procurement of training has been “disastrous”.
Many employers say they cannot afford to release staff for one day a week and do not want to make the 10% contribution to the training costs.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) skills adviser Lizzie Crowley, said the decline in apprenticeships was in part due to the fact that “non-levy paying businesses – who make up 98% of all firms – now need to co-invest with government, paying 10% of training fees, whereas previously the vast majority would have received this free of charge”.
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers, whose members include independent trainers, employers and further education colleges, said it had already made clear to the government what needed to be done to improve the number of apprenticeships.
“There needs to be appropriate flexibility of off-the-job training. In addition, employers without levy funding should not be charged for training 16-24 year old apprentices,” said the association’s chief executive, Mark Dawe.
“Without these actions, we do not believe the government will reach their manifesto commitment.”
Verity Davidge, head of education and skills policy at the manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, said some members had been “left frustrated that the introduction of the levy has in, some cases, resulted in them being unable to offer and deliver apprenticeships”.
Ms Davidge described the 59% drop in apprenticeships as “shocking” but added that it was “frankly unsurprising as we continue to hear stories from companies who have hit a brick wall in trying to get levy supported apprenticeships off the ground”.
“Accessing the funding has proven complex and difficult to unlock in time and employers have struggled to get their heads down the complex rules and restrictions in accessing funds,” she said.
“As a result some apprentices have been told that their apprenticeship has been put on hold for now which is clearly a huge disappointment for young people who had effectively been offered a job – only to have their hopes dashed.”