Is there a shrinking demand for apprenticeships in 2018? Absolutely not.

Posted: 6 Mar 2018 - 14:22
Behind a string of recent ‘bad news’ stories about apprenticeships, there are some clear silver linings.

Yes, recent statistics have given some cause for concern to those of us who value and support the growth of the apprenticeships sector: for the second quarter in a row, the Department for Education (DfE) statistics have shown significantly fewer apprenticeship starts compared to the same quarter of last year.

Does this mean there is shrinking demand for apprenticeships? Arguably, no. Clearly something isn’t working right, but the problem is blockages in the market, not about fundamental questions of demand. Many point to the negative impact of last year’s apprenticeship funding reforms: the CBI has been consistent in highlighting the shortcomings of the apprenticeship levy. There are also bottlenecks in the development of new standards. The number of new apprenticeship standards at degree level, for example, feels like it has been stuck at around 30 for some time, although more are in development.   

But especially at the higher and degree level, as awareness of the apprenticeship route grows so does demand, particularly among young people. Our research suggests that 20% of university applicants are seriously considering a degree apprenticeship.* The Resolution Foundation responded to the DfE apprenticeship figures in January by highlighting some reasons for optimism: at higher and degree level, the number of apprenticeship starts by those aged 24 and below are up by more than 30% compared to last year. 

And on the supply side, too, while new apprenticeship standards are trickling through development and approval stages, the actual number of opportunities available is picking up much faster. The number of higher and degree apprenticeships listed on UCAS’ apprenticeship Careerfinder tool between May 2017 and the January deadline 2018 – the main window when students are typically looking for traditional degree options for autumn 2018 – was almost five times higher than the previous year.

So, clearly some problems to fix to get apprenticeships moving, and given the importance of progression through different levels of apprenticeship it would be wrong to focus only on higher apprenticeships and above. But the positive indicators at this end of the market are welcome signs that apprenticeships are set to become an important part of the higher education landscape. 

 Mark Wilson, Strategy Manager, UCAS

*UCAS’ 2018 New applicant survey

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