The number of apprentices in the Leeds City Region has fallen by more than a quarter in just one year, a meeting has heard.
A report into the state of apprenticeships was presented to a meeting of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) scrutiny board today (Friday), and revealed a dramatic decrease of almost 8,000 apprentices during the 2017/18 academic year.
It also highlighted issues around fewer girls pursuing subjects based around science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and lower numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds being taken on as apprentices in the region.
WYCA officers claimed the apprenticeship agenda is “unstable”, and that Government policy could displace more apprenticeship roles in the future.
Michelle Burton, Head of Employment and Skills at WYCA, told the meeting: “Apprenticeships have been falling – that is a national picture and it has been replicated in the Leeds City Region.
“The Employment and Skills Panel is really disturbed by this and is keen to do something about it.
“Our priority is about more and better apprenticeships, as well as the quality and appropriateness of the apprenticeships that are a good match with the jobs we have available.”
The report added 22,250 apprenticeship started in Leeds City Region during the 2017/18 academic year – a fall of 7,970 on the previous year.
WYCA officer Catherine Lunn said: “The apprenticeship agenda is unstable at the moment, to say the least. We are trying to do as much as possible with businesses and providers, and potential clients in the future.”
She added the introduction of T-level programmes – two-year courses set to be introduced in 2020, which will see young people develop skills with employers – could negatively affect apprenticeships.
She said: “Once they start their introduction, we anticipate that they will also displace apprenticeships. It feels at the moment that the policy framework is against us and local communities in relation to apprenticeships.”
Bradford councillor Mike Pollard said of the report: “The really depressing bit is the gender stereotypes. It really is a bit grotesque.
“The number of girls that are going into engineering and manufacturing jobs is sad.
“So it is the STEM co-ordinators where we should be questioning what sort of approach on a gender basis is going on schools at years nine and 10?
“We do have very good non-vocational results at sixth form level. But this would appear to suggest that the gender split is depressing.”
The report stated: “There are issues about the extent to which apprenticeships are inclusive.
“Pupils eligible for free school meals are less likely to enter apprenticeships when they leave school. For example, only four per cent of disadvantaged pupils in Calderdale enter apprenticeships compared with nine per cent of the non-disadvantaged.
“There are pronounced patterns of gender segregation by subject, with girls much less likely to enter subjects like engineering, construction and ICT; which tend to offer strong pay and progression opportunities.”
Michelle Burton, head of employment and skills at WYCA, responded to Coun Pollard: “You are right, there are a lot of different roles within schools that have a focus on this. While it needs to be within teachers and senior leaders.
“You are right – part of the job is about finding the right people.”