Last reviewed 8 September 2021

According to the latest official figures on apprenticeships, there were 253,100 starts between August 2020 and April 2021, down by 6.9% from the third quarter (Q3) of 2019/20.

Responding to these statistics, which can be found at https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/apprenticeships-and-traineeships/2020-21, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called for the apprenticeship incentive to be extended.

Chairman Mike Cherry noted that the rate of reduction in starts had slowed somewhat but said: “Whilst the pandemic has understandably had a dampening effect on training efforts, the annual fall in apprenticeship starts is nevertheless very concerning against a backdrop of chronic skills shortages.”

He also highlighted how the figures expose the north-south divide, with a disproportionate fall in apprenticeship starts in the North and the Midlands, and with the North East seeing the largest reduction in percentage terms.

With the £3000 apprenticeship incentive set to be withdrawn at the end of September, he warned that the fall in numbers could continue and urged Ministers to review this deadline as a matter of urgency.

“Equally,” Mr Cherry continued, “we have to get the apprenticeship levy system right, to ensure that the funds contributed are shared with firms of all sizes, giving young people the opportunity to gain the hands-on experience and access to leadership that is unique to smaller firms.”

The FSB points out that its Voice of Small Business Index for Q2 of 2021 shows that close to four in 10 small firms now cite skills shortages as a major barrier to growth (see https://www.fsb.org.uk/resource-report/sbi-q2-2021.html).

Comment by Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

This development serves as the latest example that the quality of existing apprenticeship schemes continues to receive increased levels of scrutiny.

It may be that the Government needs to review the structure of apprenticeships to encourage take-up, since a lack of interest from candidates may also dissuade employers from offering the scheme.