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Guaranteeing Apprenticeships for Young Workers

Research from CIPD highlights concerns about the state of apprenticeships and training in the U.K.

By Maggie Mancini

Research from CIPD, working with the Youth Futures Foundation, finds that most employers believe apprenticeships should be primarily used to support young people entering the workforce. However, the survey says that the current levy system is undermining this ambition and is instead incentivising employers to rebadge training for existing staff as apprenticeships so they can claim back funding.  

In response, the report calls for an apprenticeship guarantee for young people and for the levy to be transformed into a flexible skills levy, with at least 50% of funds going towards apprenticeships, primarily for young people, and the remainder going towards other forms of accredited training. These reforms would help provide the right balance in structurally restoring opportunities for young talent, whilst also enabling businesses to meaningfully invest in and upskill their existing workforce.  

The report’s analysis highlights a fall in overall apprenticeship starts since the levy came into force in 2017 and finds that the policy has failed to reverse the long-term decline in employer investment in skills, a key intended outcome for its introduction.  

Additionally, it shows that employer support for helping young people through apprenticeships is strong. More than half of employers (60%) think that the primary purpose of apprenticeships should be supporting young people to enter the workplace, with just 15% saying it should be used to develop existing staff. Nine in 10 (89%) employers back the recommendation of an apprenticeship guarantee for young people up to the age of 24, ensuring that a level 2 or level 3 apprenticeship place is available for every young person who wants one and meets the minimum entry requirements.  

However, it also includes analysis showing unintended consequences of the levy, with more than half (54%) of organisations admitting they have converted existing training activity into apprenticeship programmes to claim back their allowance.  

Worryingly, the data shows the introduction of the levy coincides with the number of people undertaking apprenticeships from the most deprived areas of England falling from 250,000 to 150,000 between 2015 and 2023.  

To address these findings, the report calls for policy makers to:  

  • introduce an apprenticeship guarantee for young people up to 24 years old; 
  • reform the levy into a more flexible skills levy, with at least half of the funding ringfenced for apprenticeships for young people; 
  • reintroduce a pre-apprenticeship programme; and 
  • strengthen sector bodies to catalyse collective employer action in identifying and addressing skills challenges. 

“The evidence in this report shows clearly that young people most need and benefit from apprenticeships, and that the erosion of this pathway has had a negative impact on social mobility for the most disadvantaged,” says Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD. “The introduction of an apprenticeship guarantee would help reclaim apprenticeships primarily for young people and reverse the decline in opportunities for them.”  

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