Equalising access to apprenticeships

Suzanne Straw, Jenna Julius, Henry Faulkner-Ellis, Rachel Classick and Gillian Keightley

16 June 2022

Apprenticeships are a key training route to help young people enter the labour market and for upskilling existing workers. Apprenticeships also have the potential to act as a vehicle for social mobility for young people.

Despite this, as evidenced by our earlier NFER report, the number of apprenticeships started by young people and those from disadvantaged backgrounds of all ages declined significantly following recent reforms to the apprenticeship system. The extent to which this fall in the number of apprenticeships started by young people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, is driven by falling supply for apprenticeships or lack of demand from young people looking for an apprenticeship is not well understood.

This research seeks to fill this gap by investigating the availability of intermediate (Level 2, equivalent to GCSEs) and advanced (Level 3, equivalent to A-levels) apprenticeships, and associated age, qualification, skill and experience requirements.

Key Findings

  • Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) find it difficult to recruit suitable young people to apprenticeship vacancies.
  • Low wages are a barrier to the recruitment and retention of young people, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, on apprenticeships.
  • Travel costs may be a barrier to young people accessing more specialised apprenticeship opportunities which are not available in their local area.
  • Minimum English and maths entry requirements for the majority of intermediate and advanced apprenticeships may be preventing young people from accessing apprenticeships.
  • Traineeships, short training programmes which aim to support young people to progress onto an apprenticeship or employment but which are not currently doing this effectively, need an urgent review.