Skip navigation
The Progressive Policy Think Tank

New apprenticeship programme needs to go further to benefit young people - IPPR

Young people lose out twice: over 25s get more places and many apprenticeships are poor quality

IPPR says that the government’s new apprenticeship system is not doing enough to alleviate youth unemployment – with young people losing out to older workers in the race to enrol on apprenticeships. And those who do get places are often not being given proper training.

IPPR’s report makes a number of recommendations including:

  • Tightening, not relaxing, apprenticeship standards;
  • Extending the apprenticeship levy to cover smaller employers;
  • A dedicated ‘pre-apprenticeship’ route for 16-18 year olds to ensure that young people are properly prepared to start a Level 3 apprenticeship;
  • Re-introducing a nationally recognised qualification as part of all apprenticeships;
  • Extending the deadline to deliver 3 million apprenticeships, to ensure the government focus on ‘quality not quantity’.

The report comes out as many young people are considering what to do next as A-level and GCSE results are published over the coming weeks. But IPPR says that the government’s desire to hit a target of 3 million apprenticeship starts by the end of the parliament in 2020, has led it to prioritise quantity over quality and focus on adult apprenticeships which are easier to deliver.

Charlynne Pullen, IPPR Senior Research Fellow, said:

“Apprenticeships should be a key route for young people to move into work. But not enough young people are benefiting from the government’s apprenticeship programme – and this situation could get worse in the coming years.

“Training existing staff in what they already know isn’t what the public think of as an apprenticeship. There is a real risk of the new apprenticeship system repeating many of the same mistakes as the previous system that it is replacing.”

New analysis from IPPR shows that while there was a 30 per cent increase in the total number of apprenticeships between 2010/11 and 2014/15, the number of apprenticeships going to 17 and 18 year olds actually fell by 8,000 over the same period.

While reforms introduced by the coalition government in 2012 have helped to rectify part of the problem, last year the ‘over 25s’ age group still made up the largest group of apprentices, securing over 360,000 places in total.

The report warns that new ‘light-touch regulation’ of apprenticeship standards, coupled with the introduction of an apprenticeship levy, could encourage large employers in sectors such as retail to simply rebrand existing workplace training as apprenticeships in order to access state subsidies.

This means that firms will have an incentive to enrol existing adult employees onto apprenticeships – rather than create new roles to train up the next generation of workers. In 2014 64% of apprentices were ‘internal recruits’ as opposed to new employees.

Jonathan Clifton, IPPR’s Associate Director for Public Services, said:

“England is in danger of introducing an apprenticeship system that would work well in the economy of the 1960s, but is not fit for a 21st-century workforce.

“We need to create an apprenticeship system that works in a jobs market that is increasingly characterised by small firms, service sector jobs and flexible working

“The government have made a number of steps in the right direction – including introducing an apprenticeship levy - but there is more work to be done to ensure that all young people have access to high quality ‘earning and learning’ routes”.

The report argues that the decision to ditch a requirement for apprenticeships to contain a nationally recognised qualification could harm young people, who will need transferable qualifications in an increasingly flexible jobs market.

The IPPR report also says that:

  • The government’s new apprenticeship system will work effectively in large employers who have a commitment to high quality technical training. But it will not deliver for the growing number of smaller firms and those working in the service sector.
  • Most apprentices already have qualifications at the level of their apprenticeship, meaning they are not progressing up the skills levels: 80% of adults starting a level 2 apprenticeship already hold a full level 2 qualification.
  • The government’s proposed apprenticeship levy will only apply to 2% of employers, meaning that most firms will not have an added incentive to offer apprenticeships.
  • The government’s target to create 3 million apprenticeships will encourage as many starts as possible, which could see apprentices being placed on inappropriate levels.
  • The new apprenticeship standards are not being properly regulated – and vary in quality between sectors.


Kieren Walters, [email protected], 07921 403 651
Sarah Horner, [email protected], 07584 604 607
Lester Holloway, [email protected], 07585 772 633

Notes to Editors:

  1. The new report England’s Apprenticeships will be launched on Tuesday 16th August, at 00:01, on this link:
  2. JPMorgan Chase has supported today’s report as part of its New Skills at Work programme, which aims to identify strategies and support data-driven solutions that help improve labour market infrastructure and develop the skilled workforce globally.
  3. This report is also part of IPPR’s New Skills At Work programme. This joint IPPR–JPMorgan Chase initiative is bringing together and mobilising the best policymakers, business leaders, academics and civil society organisations across Europe to develop new solutions for the workforce challenges of the future. For more information see:
  4. The report examines apprenticeship participation by age group:







Under 19