Act Now to Reverse Decline in Science Sector Apprenticeship Starts

The Government must take action now to halt the decline in the number of new science sector apprenticeships starts in England.

New apprenticeship starts across the science sector have fallen by half over the last five years, according to the latest data published by the Science Industry Partnership (SIP), an employer-led membership alliance supporting the skills needs of the sector.

The decline in apprenticeship starts at science companies (dropping by 51% between 2015/16 to 2020/21) is more pronounced amongst SMEs (which have dropped by 72% compared to a 20% fall at larger companies) and represents a potential skills risk to the development of future talent.

The picture is more varied across the science subsectors, where the success of degree-level apprenticeships has helped to boost the number of starts in the Pharmaceutical (increased by 4%) and Scientific R&D industries (increased by 42%).

The latest findings from the SIP’s survey of apprenticeships in the science sector include a number of practical reforms to address employer concerns in the apprenticeship system. These include:

  • A call for a stable and consistent skills policy environment to maintain employer confidence
  • Greater flexibility to spend Apprenticeship Levy funds on short courses and Continuing Professional Development.
  • Protecting qualifications in apprenticeships
  • Increased support for SMEs to make it easier to attract and recruit apprenticeships.
  • Ensuring apprenticeships continue to offer equality of opportunity, promoting social mobility

Dr Malcolm Skingle, Chair of the Science Industry Partnership and Academic Liaison Director GSK commented: “Apprentices are central to ensuring that we have a diverse and skilled workforce at all levels and employers continue to use them flexibly to both upskill the workforce and attract new talent. The overall decline in numbers is not a trend that is unique to our industry. The sector has the ambition, but we need to ensure the policy and funding mechanisms support employers, meet the needs of our apprentices and allow the development of a highly-skilled, globally transferable workforce.”

The SIP emphasises that whilst it is more than five years since the introduction of the Levy system, still, 60% of the funds raised within the sector are lost when they expire. Highlighting the opportunity to increase the flexibility of the Levy to stimulate investment in skills, boost workplace learning and support wider economic growth.

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