‘Worrying decline’ in engineering apprenticeships sparks inquiry

An inquiry has been launched by former ministers into the UK’s “worrying decline” in engineering, manufacturing and technology apprenticeships.

Lord Knight, a former Labour education minister, and Lord Willetts, former Conservative universities minister, have urged employers, training providers and young people to get involved in a ‘call for evidence’.

They want their views, evidence and ideas on how to improve the UK’s apprenticeship offerings in these sectors.  

Despite a modest uptick in numbers last year, engineering-related apprenticeship starts in England are still 9 per cent lower than in 2014/15. The uptake varies by subject, but engineering and manufacturing technologies in particular have seen a 34 per cent decline.

“Apprenticeships, especially in engineering and technology, enjoy enormous political and media support and are a crucial route into work for many people,” Lord Willets said. “Meanwhile the number of young people actually doing these apprenticeships is falling.”

“Our inquiry will draw on expert evidence to understand why this is happening and what can be done about it, so that we can grow and sustain the opportunities that apprenticeships offer to young people. I am delighted to be co-chairing this inquiry not least because my father ran the apprenticeship programme for a Midlands engineering firm.”

In 2017, an apprenticeship levy was introduced which applied to all employers in England with an annual pay bill above £3m. The levy, which is set at 0.5 per cent of the annual pay bill, must be used to pay for apprenticeship training, along with a 10 per cent top-up from the government.

But MakeUK, which represents manufacturers, said that many of these funds were wasted and ended up unused. It found that more than £1bn-worth of levy funds expired unused in the nine months from May 2020.

“Britain must transition towards a more sustainable and productive economy,” Lord Knight said.

“The skills shortage is a dragging anchor on that transition, particularly in key areas such as engineering. The fall in young people taking up engineering and technology apprenticeships is an urgent problem.”

In December, an IET-led report urged the government to embed engineering into the current curriculum as a way to tackle the skills shortage.

The call for evidence will be open until 27 February 2023.

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