To me, an apprenticeship always meant a young kid leaving school at 16, and instead of doing A Levels or a full time FE course, going to learn a trade for three of four years while doing a day or two at college. Not any more. Figures published in this report show that almost half (42%) of those starting apprenticeships are over 25 years old, and two thirds were already employed by their company before they started an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships have been sold in recent years as being a solution to youth unemployment and as a viable option to the academic route. Young people are buying this message, but they are often finding the places just aren’t there. 16-18 years olds have made 57% of total applications for apprenticeships since 2010, but only made up 27% of starts.
The Coalition government expanded the number of apprenticeships quite significantly, but as the chart below shows, the number of 16-18 year olds apprentice starts has barely moved. What happened was that when previous training schemes like Train to Gain were wound down, employers simply replaced that training with apprenticeships – often of dubious quality, and often in occupations that traditionally wouldn’t require an apprenticeship qualification. For example, in 2011, Morrisons Supermarkets became Britain’s largest provider of apprenticeships.
Another perhaps surprising finding from the report was that even though the apprenticeship minimum wage is significantly lower than the normal minimum wage, 24% of 16-18 year old apprentices are not even being paid that. This is a scandal.
During the election campaign, David Cameron said:
“We’ve already created 2.2 million apprenticeships since 2010 but a future Conservative government is committed to opening up three million more high quality apprenticeships – to help strengthen our economy and communities and give millions more people financial security.”
This is a noble aim, but the reality is a long way from that ambition. As long as apprenticeships are just a way for employers to train their established workforce on the cheap, or for other employers to use them to exploit school leavers by paying them a pittance, apprenticeships will never be a pathway to a high skilled, high productivity workforce.