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Apprenticeships – plenty of willing recruits but how many finish the course?

The number of apprentices completing their schemes has declined over the last three years

The quality of apprenticeship schemes is again under scrutiny, with the CBI emphasising that completed apprenticeships should be the true measure of government success in this area, and Ofsted criticising the “skills” being credited in some schemes. However, the Government claims that reforms to the schemes designed to make them more robust, may have contributed to a higher drop-out rate.

The Financial Times has carried out a detailed analysis of a Government-issued data set on apprenticeships. Their work has resulted in disappointing news on the drop-out rate for apprentices. In 2010-11, 76.4 per cent of apprentices completed their apprenticeships. Worryingly, the most recent Government figures, for 2013-14, show a significant drop to 68.9 per cent.

The overall figure disguises variations across the age groups. For every 100 apprentices who were aged 19 or older, fewer than 70 (68.2 per cent) stayed until their apprenticeship was complete. This figure fell 4.4 per cent in the most recent year alone. But while the over-19s showed the greatest decline in success rates, the number of drop-outs in all age groups grew each year for the past three years. The completed apprenticeship rate for under-19s declined to 71.1 per cent, a fall of 0.4 per cent.

The Government’s original target was for three million apprenticeships. The current trend indicates that the actual figure for successfully completed apprenticeships will be closer to two million. The growing gap between the number of young people starting apprenticeships and those finishing them successfully, gives rise to queries about the quality of the schemes.

Last year, Ofsted criticised the apprenticeship regime, on the grounds that the tax payer was funding too many schemes where employers and providers gave apprenticeship credits to existing employees for mundane tasks such as making drinks and cleaning.

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (DBIS) is responsible for apprenticeships but has not published any analysis of the reasons behind the declining success rates. However DBIS said that part of the reason might be that initiatives to raise standards had led to apprenticeships being assessed more robustly. They now had to last longer than a year and involve some off-the-job training, as well as being more closely aligned with the skills requirements of industrial employers.

Neil Carberry is director for employment and skills at the CBI, which campaigns on behalf of businesses. He commented in the Financial Times that firms wanted high calibre apprenticeships that would lead to rewarding careers. While the Government publicised three million apprenticeship starts, businesses and the apprentices themselves, were interested in successful outcomes and we should remember this when considering the number of failed apprenticeships.

Of course, most apprenticeships are not poor quality, and most apprentices do not drop out before they have finished. The site AllAboutSchoolLeavers gives information on rewarding apprenticeships on its jobs board.

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