PAC: Apprenticeship opportunities for people with lower skills ‘diminishing’

22 May 19
Less-skilled and disadvantaged learners are missing out because of the government’s “out of kilter” apprenticeship levy, MPs have warned.

Since creating the levy in spring 2017, apprenticeship starts have fallen by 26% and the government will fail to meet its target of three million starts by March 2020, the Public Accounts Committee has said. 

The PAC report, out today, said that the programme is now more “heavily weighted” towards higher-level apprenticeships.  As such, it is bypassing those with lower skill levels. 

Learners from disadvantaged backgrounds are missing out, with just 23% of new apprentices coming from the most deprived local authority areas in 2017-18, compared with the government’s target of 25%, the report noted. 

“The way that the programme is evolving risks leaving behind people with lower skills and those from disadvantaged communities,” it said.

The cross-party group of MPs also warns that as much as 20% of the budget for the levy will go unspent in 2017-18. Stakeholders recently said that these unspent funds were a result of a lack of flexibility over how the money can be used. 

PAC chair Meg Hillier said: “The way the programme is evolving is out of kilter with the department’s objectives: opportunities for people with lower skills are diminishing and apprenticeship starts in disadvantaged communities has fallen. 

“What’s more, take-up from under-represented groups has been too low. We are supportive of the programme’s core objective to draw apprentices from a wider range of social and demographic groups, but this is at complete odds with its unambitious targets.” 

The report said that the Department for Education has a target of just 11.9% of apprenticeship starts from the black, Asian and minority ethnic population by 2020, despite the fact that the group represents 14.9% of the overall working age population. 

It also criticised the department for not setting gender-based targets and said, in the absence of these targets, it should evaluate the impact of its efforts to attract more women in apprenticeships, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

The chair of the Local Government Association’s people and places board, Mark Hawthorne, said: “Councils have warned that the current system is hampering local efforts to boost apprenticeships and are calling for greater flexibility in order to deliver good-quality apprenticeships.

“Considerable barriers are restricting employers from spending their levy funds. Apprenticeships standards, against which the levy must be spent, have been delayed or are yet to be approved, including in adult care, early years and building control.

Anne Milton, apprenticeships and skills minister, said: “We are making apprenticeships better. They are now longer, higher quality and have more off-the-job training - a point the PAC acknowledges.

“We are increasing the numbers of people with learning disabilities or from BAME backgrounds starting apprenticeships. We have projects aimed at helping people from disadvantaged areas to achieve an apprenticeship with all the benefits it provides.”

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