I’ve spent the better part of 2 years now questioning the need and wisdom for students to be corralled into unnecessary degrees simply to fulfil societal ambition or parental expectation. A stance I stand squarely behind however it’s getting pretty hard to defend apprenticeships now too.
The introduction of the apprenticeship levy is seen by many as the reason that apprenticeships numbers have dropped so dramatically over the last year. So what do these things mean in real terms?
Right, well for those who don’t know what the apprenticeship levy is and how it may be affecting you or your child’s chances of finding a spot in an area that’s of interest, here it is – the levy is basically a tax that makes every employer with an annual wage bill of over £3 million pay 0.5% of their wage bill into an apprenticeship fund that would then be topped up by the Government to pay for training – this was expected to generate around £3Bn a year to finance apprenticeships. Many critics have said there’s too much red tape, it’s hard to navigate and is actively working against their commitments to take on apprenticeships. The IoD have been particularly vocal about how its members have struggled to comprehend the Byzantine regulations and tax implications.
These claims seem to ring true with some robust evidence to support them as people starting apprenticeships fell 27% to 114,400 in the first quarter on a year on year basis. A figure that in itself follows on from a 60% drop in starts from the previous quarter, perhaps not un-coincidentally since the introduction of the levy. Some of this can be explained away by businesses rushing people through to start prior to the levy coming into effect but it remains a concern.
Now percentage figures are all fine and dandy but lack context, so what does that mean in real terms – well one of the very well regarded apprenticeship programmes is offered by KPMG, a business that is seen (rightly) as one of the exemplars of the modern apprenticeship scheme and a business that has recently increased their intake by 40%. But. That still amounts to fewer than 200 apprenticeship places across the UK.
When you consider that, give or take, the amount of students looking at university ranges between 300,000 to 500,000 each year but with a recent decrease amidst worries regarding cost, grade inflation etc. Now if we’re encouraging the idea that apprenticeships are a genuinely viable and equal alternative to university we need more, considerably more, of the kind of high quality offering that KPMG are putting out there. The Government has a stated goal of 3M apprentices by 2020. It’s hard to see with the current numbers how that will be achieved and particularly if the levy is simply seen as an additional tax to be paid without the creation of the necessary apprenticeships roles to match.
If we’re trying to move to a state where university isn’t the default goal and apprenticeships are considered to be an equal footing someone, somewhere really needs to pull their finger out and actually put in place the legislation necessary to create a workforce fit for the challenges of the future. If you’re teenager and are considering your options now, the only advice I could offer is work hard, aim high and be pugilistic on your own behalf. Get experiences, build your network, develop your skill sets, seize opportunities, no matter which route you pursue with fewer places available on apprenticeships and the eye watering debt associated with university you need to make your choices count and make yourself so good they can’t ignore you.