Civil service ‘on track’ to meet apprenticeship target – but some departments lag behind

The Department for Education comfortably exceeded the target, but the Ministry of Justice among those below target

Less than 0.2% of staff at the MoJ were new apprentices in 2017-18. Photo: PA.

The civil service is set to meet the target for new apprentices to make up 2.3% of its workforce by March 2021, but new figures have revealed the differing rates of progress across government.

The statistics, published by the Cabinet Office, show 4,459 apprentices started in the civil service in 2017-18. The hires put the civil service well on its way towards the target.

The target was introduced by the then-Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2016, and requires most government departments and some other public sector bodies to create new apprenticeships equivalent to 2.3% of their overall staffing levels to boost social mobility.


But although the Cabinet Office said it was "pleased" to be on track to meet the target across the civil service as a whole, progress across individual departments varied considerably, an analysis of the data by CSW shows. 

The Department for Education has already comfortably exceeded the target, with apprentices making up 2.7% of its workforce, but some others were much further from hitting the mark.

More than half of the apprentices across government departments were hired into either HM Revenue and Customs or the Department for Work and Pensions. HMRC’s 1,139 apprentice starts made up more than 1.8% of full-time equivalent staff at the agency, based on monthly workforce statistics from March 2018. At DWP, 1,123 new starts accounted for 1.5% of staff.

Despite hiring a much lower number of apprentices, the Department for Exiting the European Union was among the closest to reaching the target. Its much lower headcount than other departments meant its 14 new apprentices accounted for just over 2.2% of its staff.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was also close to meeting its goal after 285 apprenticeship new starts made up around 2.1% of its staff.

Some other departments had much further to go. New apprentices accounted for less than 0.2% of staff at the Ministry of Justice and its executive agencies.

A spokesperson for the ministry said the prisons, probation and courts services that make up the majority of its workforce have not historically used apprenticeships on a large scale, requiring it to build apprenticeship programmes from scratch.

The ministry is now in the process of trialling its first apprenticeship standard for prison officers, which has been developed over the last two years. “We are confident of reaching the government-wide target on time,” the spokesperson said.

The Department for Transport was also lagging behind, with new apprentices making up around 0.5% of its workforce.

The proportion was similar at the Department for International Trade, but as a new department it has had less time than others to put arrangements for apprentices in place.

Departments that missed the 2.3% goal have been given an “adjusted target” that will help them hit the target by March 2021, the Cabinet Office said.

“Apprentices are core to our ambition to become a brilliant civil service,” it said. “Not only do they support our commitment to building a broader set of skills in the civil service, but they allow us to offer more, varied careers that will help us retain and attract the best talent.”

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