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Day 6: Apprenticeships

GCSE results are out today and it's decision time for 16 year olds. Last year, 41% of students chose to follow the academic route , but many 16-18 will look to enter the labour market through a vocational route. Apprenticeships provide young people with the opportunity to train on the job, and get paid, while they work towards a qualification.

Almost 500,000 people in the UK started apprenticeships in 2014/15, 14% more than the previous academic year . However, apprenticeships still have an image problem, with a YouGov survey finding that only 7% of young people believe they are the best way forward for them . In addition, research from the Financial Times found that almost a third of apprentices fail to complete work placements .

In last year’s autumn statement, then chancellor George Osborne unveiled plans to create three million apprentices and an apprenticeship levy on businesses . This levy (due to be introduced in April 2017) will be 0.5% of the total annual salary costs – so long as those costs are over £3million  - which businesses would receive back as voucher credit to pay for training new apprenticeships.

New PM Theresa May has also signalled her commitment to apprenticeships, and expanded the remit of the Department of Education to include skills and apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships don’t just offer young people an alternative to university - although this is important when students can graduate with up to £53,000 of debt  – they offer more value for money on government spending. Government estimates show that for every £1 spent on high-level apprenticeships, the UK economy benefits by £28; for all further education spending, the return is £20 for every £1 spent.

However, recruitment agency Reed reported that the number of apprenticeships they were advertising fell by 29% last month  – likely due to firms being more cautious after the Brexit vote. Taking on apprentices requires strong commitment from employers because of the training they are required to provide, and unfortunately it’s training roles that are the first to go in times of economic uncertainty.

Last week, the government announced a consultation on the apprenticeship levy. Plans to provide extra funding to businesses taking on 16-18 year old apprenticeships might go some way to mitigate the reluctance of some employers to invest in young people with less experience, but only time will tell if apprenticeship numbers start to recover in the aftermath of the referendum vote.