Gov urged to reform apprenticeship scheme after falling short of 3 million 2020 target

Experts say the 'bureaucracy and complexity' of the fund has alienated smaller businesses

The government must reform its digital skills apprenticeships programme in order to meet rising industry demand, experts have warned.

This follows news that just over two million people have taken on apprenticeships since May 2015, falling short of the three million by 2020 target pledged by the government.

According to its latest figures, the number of people starting an apprenticeship in England fell to 125,800 between August and October 2019, down 4.7% from 132,000 in the same quarter a year earlier.

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"We are investing significantly to level up skills and opportunity across the country and apprenticeships are playing a key role in this," a Department for Education spokesperson said.

"We recognise there is more work to do and we are continuing to look at how the apprenticeship programme can best support the changing needs of businesses so more people can get ahead and all employers can benefit."

However, the 1 million apprenticeships shortfall is an indication of the wider challenge the UK faces in developing home-grown talent, according to Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates.

"Career routes are diverse and extend far beyond degrees, but our current system is failing to provide options for students to explore them," he said. "To fill the gaps in our workforce, we must create and execute schemes that effectively support young people, with one eye on the key skills our businesses need to thrive - namely digital." "It's pertinent that the new government revisits its pledge and works closer with the private sector and the education system, to ensure that a variety of apprenticeship options are being created. Given the increasing digitisation of our industry, these should place a heavy focus on technology skills, so that the next generation of our workforce are learning relevant skills that will help them succeed." The tech sector has been an enthusiastic advocate of apprenticeships, according to Nimmi Patel, programme manager for skills & diversity at techUK. She believes that they can grow the domestic talent pipeline, but the government must redouble its efforts to ensure that businesses are encouraged and enabled to take on apprentices. "Key to this will be reform of the apprenticeship levy to embed greater flexibility for employers," Patel said. "The bureaucracy and complexity of the levy has left funds going unspent, with smaller businesses missing out."

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