AT the three-quarters point in the 2014 Apprentice Campaign, it is a good time to look at where we stand.
For the same six-month period as this time last year we currently have 616 apprentice starts compared with 780 – down by just over 20%.
One reason for this is a significant fall in 24+ starts – 35% down for North Devon and 45% down for Torridge. This is likely to have been influenced by the Government's introduction of 24+ Advanced Learning Loans in August 2013.
This replaced previous funding for this age group. While there have been thousands of applications for loans, just 1% were for apprenticeships.
As a result the 24+ Advanced Learning Loans have been abolished for apprenticeships but retained for other further education.
There has also been a drop in local Advanced Apprenticeships (Level 3) and a very low take up of Higher Level Apprenticeships (Levels 4/5), although this may be to do with the limited choice available.
New frameworks are being added all the time, but currently most of these higher level options are available for the business, administration and law sectors. There may also be a link between this and the lack of funding for the 24+ group, linked to the theme above. So if this is changing there may be an increase for the second half of 2014.
For every 16 to 18-year-old female apprentice, there are more than double the number of male apprentices. The reasons for this are not clear and could be due to more awareness of the traditional apprentice roles, eg, plumbing, construction and engineering.
These could be less appealing to a female audience.
In common with the rest of the UK, we know that it takes time for the apprenticeship message to spread throughout the business and education sectors. This is the reason we are running the campaign again for the fourth year and why we highlight different apprenticeship opportunities, such as marketing, digital and brewing. Changes in funding and focus will affect take-up and some initiatives will be more effective than others.
While figures are down at this time, North Devon continues to perform better than the rest of the UK.
The increasing buoyancy of the economy and the start of many apprentices in September could boost numbers over the year as a whole.
However, this is no reason to let up on the campaign to increase awareness of apprenticeships in all sectors and to increase new apprentice starts.