11 April 2014
The latest Welsh Government statistics on apprenticeship starts show that the number of people starting apprenticeships in Wales rose from 17,910 in 2011/12 to 28,030 in 2012/13 (statistics for apprenticeships are published by academic year). This followed an overall decrease in Wales during the economic downturn, although the number of starts is now above the 2007/08 level.
Table 1: Apprenticeship starts in Wales
Source: Welsh Government, Further Education, Work-based Learning and Community Learning statistics
a) Higher apprenticeships were introduced in 2011/12 to replace the Modern Skills Diploma.
b) Between 2007/08 and 2010/11, Apprenticeships were known as Modern Apprenticeships and Foundation Apprenticeships were known as Foundation Modern Apprenticeships.
The Welsh Government has refocused its apprenticeship programme over recent years, seeking to address youth unemployment alongside other policies such as Jobs Growth Wales.
In his written evidence to the Enterprise and Business Committee’s Apprenticeships Inquiry in 2012, the then Deputy Minister for Skills, Jeff Cuthbert AM, said that whilst the Welsh Government continues to ‘adopt an all-age Apprenticeship programme’, it had ‘committed within [its] Programme for Government to increasing apprenticeship opportunities for young people, recognising the disproportionate impact of the recession on youth unemployment’. In contrast, the House of Commons Library notes that three quarters of the increase in the number of apprenticeship starts in England between 2009/10 and 2011/12 was accounted for by people aged over 25. In 2011/12 44% of people starting apprenticeships in England were aged 25 and over, compared to 18% in 2009/10.
As part of the budget agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru in autumn 2012, an additional £20 million was agreed to provide an additional 5,650 apprenticeships in 2013-14 and 2014-15, of which 2,650 will be higher apprenticeships. Early figures published for the 2013/14 academic year on 3 April 2014 show that between August and December 2013 there has been an increase of 2,950 apprenticeship starts in comparison to figures for August to December 2012, of which 1,365 is due to an increase in higher apprenticeships. Following the budget deal in autumn 2013 between the Welsh Government, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats, the additional funding allocation has been extended to 2015-16.
Comparisons are sometimes made between apprenticeships in Wales and England, including on occasion in the Assembly Chamber. Such comparisons can be difficult firstly due to the Welsh Government’s advice that caution should be exercised in making direct comparisons ‘owing to differences in methodology and data collection’, and secondly because there is a considerable amount of policy divergence between Wales and England.
The Deputy Minister’s evidence to the Committee Inquiry in May 2012 also stated that ‘Welsh Government policy on apprenticeships in recent years [had] been characterised by a clear emphasis on increasing completion rates’. Rates of successful completion of apprenticeship frameworks have been higher in Wales than England in recent years. However, the ‘early drop-out rate’ for apprentices in Wales leaving programmes within 8 weeks of starting an apprenticeship rose in 2012/13. The Welsh Government suggests the increase in apprentices leaving the programme within the first 8 weeks may be related to the fact that there were more people starting apprenticeships.
Figure 1: Apprenticeship success rates in Wales and England
Source: Welsh Government, Learner Outcome Measures for Further Education, Work-based Learning and Adult Community Learning statistics; Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Learner participation, outcomes and level of highest qualification statistics
Figures for Wales do not include Higher Apprenticeships as these are not included in Welsh Government statistics on Framework success rates, due to small, unrepresentative numbers of leavers.
However, the number of apprenticeship starts in England has risen by a greater amount than Wales in recent years, doubling between 2008/09 and 2012/13. There was an increase over 240,000 between 2009/10 and 2010/11. This was in the context of the UK coalition Government’s aim of 50,000 more apprenticeship starts aged 19 and over in financial year 2010-11. As noted earlier, there has been a change in the age profile in England with a relative increase in the proportion of new apprentices who are aged 25 and over. In 2012/13, the number of starts in England was 510,200, whilst it was 28,030 in Wales. Further details of the statistics for England are available here.