Most departments are failing to hit apprenticeship targets, Labour Party claims

Parliamentary data shows new trainee numbers across the whole economy were down more than a quarter year-on-year between August and October

By Jim Dunton

15 Feb 2021

The civil service has been accused of failing to hit its apprenticeship targets, with a majority of departments falling short of the longstanding goal of creating new trainee posts equivalent to 2.3% of their total staffing level every year.

A Labour Party crunch of departmental apprenticeships data – relesed to coincide with National Apprenticeship Week – found that 11 out of 17 departments that provided details of their staffing numbers had failed to meet the 2.3% target since 2017.

The target was part of Whitehall’s commitment to support a government drive to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 across both the public and private sectors. It was also supposed to redress an imbalance between the public and private sectors in terms of training opportunities.

According to Labour’s data, although the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government employed the most apprentices in 2019, it has since “lagged behind” with apprentices now making up just 1.4% of current staff.

The data,  obtained through parliamentary questions,  revealed that apprentices made up fewer than 1% of staff at the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport and 1% of staff at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said the government had presided over a “staggering decline” in overall apprentice numbers since 2016, with 189,000 opportunities disappearing. 

She added that the number of “new starts” of apprentices between August and October last year was down more than a quarter on the same period in 2019, despite incentives of up to £2,000 per head for employers to take on new apprentices.

“Ministers are failing to create opportunities within their own departments, and their cash incentive is failing to encourage employers to take on new apprentices,” she said.

“The government should adopt Labour’s proposal for a structured wage subsidy to create the apprenticeship opportunities young people need to gain productive skills and long-term employment.”

A government spokesperson said apprenticeships were a vital part of departments’ work to deliver a “brilliant” civil service. 

“Not only do they help us build a broader set of skills across government, they allow us to offer more varied careers, which will help us retain and attract the best talent for the future,” the spokesperson said.

"We are firmly committed to having 30,000 civil service apprentices in place by April. This reflects the commitment this government has towards promoting apprenticeships both in the civil service and across the wider economy."

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