A new report has urged the government “not to leave the youngest behind” as its conclusions revealed a 72 per cent fall in entry-level apprenticeship uptake since 2014.

Analysis of government data by the London Progression Collaboration (LPC) – an initiative to boost apprenticeship starts in the capital – has revealed a major decline in entry-level apprenticeships.

Figures show that since 2014/15, entry-level apprenticeship starts in England have plummeted by 72 per cent, while at the same time starts in higher level apprenticeships, often taken up by older people, have skyrocketed by 400 per cent.

LPC warns that this decline in entry-level apprenticeships will be particularly affecting young people, as they are traditionally most likely to take up these opportunities. The LPC, which has supported more than new 700 apprenticeships in 160 small businesses over the last eighteen months, says there is a serious concern that this leaves those out of work, on zero-hour contracts, in in-work poverty or on the bottom rung of their career ladder less able to access apprenticeships.

The analysis shows that this decline in apprenticeships for young people has been particularly stark in the capital with the number of under-19s starts down from 9,550 in 2016/17 to 3,880 in 2020/21 – now making up just 11 per cent of apprenticeship starts, half of what they did five years ago.

These findings follow previous research that found apprenticeship starts in small-and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) fell by more than 36 per cent immediately following the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017.

The LPC says this is concerning considering SMEs have historically played a key role in creating high-quality local employment opportunities, especially for young people moving into the world of work. But small businesses that the LPC works with often cite the complexity of navigating the apprenticeship system, as well as cost, as key barriers to taking on apprentices.

The LPC says that this National Apprenticeships Week, the government must ensure that young people are not left behind in its mission to level-up skills. The promise of an enhanced apprentice recruitment service for SMEs is a welcome sign, but the levelling up skills mission needs to be backed by increased support for small business to access apprenticeships and other skills programmes, according to the organisation.

Anna Ambrose, Director of the London Progression Collaboration, said:

“The collapse in entry-level apprenticeships is bad for young people at the beginning of their careers and it’s bad for small businesses. Apprentices are now on average older and studying higher-level apprenticeships than they were in 2015.

“Small businesses are a crucial part of the apprenticeship ecosystem because they create entry-level apprenticeships, yet they haven’t been employing apprentices anywhere near the numbers we’ve previously seen.

“Apprenticeships are a key pathway to a high-quality job, lifting people out of poverty – and they deliver the greatest benefits to those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Upskilling reduces the burden on local authorities and the Department for Work and Pensions, and it creates dividends for local economies as they continue their post-Covid-19 recovery.

“On all measures, apprenticeships have to be at the heart of the levelling up skills mission. And this won’t achieve its aims unless small businesses are supported, both practically and financially, to create the opportunities their communities need.

“The good news is that large businesses can play a part in this right now, via the transfer of their unspent apprenticeship levy funds to pay for SME apprenticeships. To date, the London Progression Collaboration has secured over £9 million from 70 of London’s levy-payers, which has helped us to create more than one in every 100 apprenticeships across London over the last financial year.”