Can we reverse the decline in apprenticeships and make the North East ‘apprentice ready’?

March 10, 2023

Apprenticeships can help solve businesses’ recruitment challenges and can open the door to careers including law, journalism and banking. So why are the numbers of young people choosing apprenticeships falling?

In February the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP), the Federation of Small Businesses and the North East Apprenticeship Ambassador Network shared findings from new research, with the aim of reversing the decline in young people starting apprenticeships in our region. Kim Smith, the North East LEP’s Regional Lead for Education and Enterprise, explains more.

Earlier this year, we were joined by more than 100 businesses, training providers and government representatives to urgently address the decline in 16 to 18 year olds who are benefiting from apprenticeships in our region.

The event was chaired by Lucy Winskell OBE, who is the Chair of the North East LEP, and I think her opening words, and the welcome address by Robert Halfon MP, Minister of State at the Department for Education, highlighted just how important apprenticeships are for the North East. They can help businesses recruit and retain a skilled, future-proofed workforce. They give young people their first steps into work. They can help increase social mobility and reduce the number of young people who are not in employment, education or training. And yet there’s been a steady decline in numbers of young people starting apprenticeships since 2015/16.

It would be easy to blame the pandemic, the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and other external factors for the decline, and to take comfort in the fact that we’re not the only region seeing this decline. But the reality is, as a region, this pre-dates the pandemic; we have the lowest number of apprenticeships starts, accounting for just 6% of the total starts nationally, with the share of starts for under 19s continuing to fall. However, on the positive side, we know that when people start an apprenticeship 92% progress onto a positive outcome such as sustaining a job, progressing into a job with higher training very much on a par with national performance.

The decline is a big problem which also provides a big opportunity for change. And we’re no longer replying on anecdotal evidence; thanks to this research we now have a real picture of what the apprenticeship landscape looks like in our region.

Our research has highlighted a number of recommendations and that this is not just an issue for schools to solve, or for businesses to solve, it’s an issue for everybody. We can work to increase demand for apprenticeships through dispelling myths around apprenticeships amongst young people, but we also need those vacancies – at both lower and higher levels – to be there and to be tailored to the needs of our young people and our businesses.

To translate the recommendations into action, we are working with stakeholders, nationally and locally to implement an apprenticeReady framework.

We’ve delivered training for secondary schools across the North East to make teachers aware
of apprenticeship opportunities. We’re working with the Department for Education to help improve the Find an Apprenticeship website for both jobseekers and employers and we’re working with New College Durham to support a new regional project for SMEs wanting to deliver apprenticeships.

For me, holding February’s event was about not shying away from the fact that we need to do more, and that being apprentice ready is everybody’s business.

It will be a collaborative effort to make successful apprenticeships a reality for the North East and the results will benefit us all.

To read the research, visit the North East Evidence Hub at, and to access information and resources on apprenticeships, visit To find out how you can get involved in the apprenticeReady framework development please email [email protected]


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