The Government is being urged to ‘not leave youngest behind’ this National Apprenticeships Week by boosting access to vocational work.

There’s been ‘a major decline in entry-level apprenticeships’ according to analysis of government data by the London Progression Collaboration (LPC) – an initiative to boost apprenticeship starts in the capital.

The data shows that since 2014/15, entry-level apprenticeship starts in England have plummeted by 72 percent. At the same time, starts in higher level apprenticeships, often taken up by older people, have skyrocketed by 400 per cent.

Young people are missing out

The LPC warns that this decline in entry-level apprenticeships will be particularly affecting young people, as they are traditionally most likely to take up these opportunities. 

Earlier HRreview reported that there would be an increase in apprentice recruitment this year, but not actively from minority or lower socio-economic backgrounds.

The LPC, which says it has supported more than new 700 apprenticeships in 160 small businesses over the last eighteen months, says there is a serious concern that those out of work, on zero-hour contracts, in in-work poverty or on the bottom rung of their career ladder are now less able to access apprenticeships.

Anna Ambrose, Director of the London Progression Collaboration, said: “The collapse in entry-level apprenticeships is bad for young people at the beginning of their careers and it’s bad for small businesses. Apprentices are now on average older and studying higher-level apprenticeships than they were in 2015.”

The analysis also shows that this decline in apprenticeships for young people has been particularly stark in the capital with the number of under-19s starts down from 9,550 in 2016/17 to 3,880 in 2020/21 – now making up just 11 per cent of apprenticeship starts, half of what they did five years ago.

These findings follow previous research that found apprenticeship starts in small-and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) fell by more than 36 per cent immediately following the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017.

Call on government to help boost entry-level apprenticeships 

Ms Ambrose said: “Small businesses are a crucial part of the apprenticeship ecosystem because they create entry-level apprenticeships, yet they haven’t been employing apprentices anywhere near the numbers we’ve previously seen.”

SMEs have historically played a key role in creating high-quality local employment opportunities, especially for young people moving into the world of work. But these businesses say they are finding the complexity of navigating the apprenticeship system, as well as cost, as key barriers to taking on apprentices.

The LPC is calling on the government this National Apprenticeships Week, to ensure that young people are not left behind in its mission to level-up skills. The promise of an enhanced apprentice recruitment service for SMEs is a welcome sign, but the levelling up skills mission needs to be backed by increased support for small business to access apprenticeships and other skills programmes, according to the organisation.