NEAAN Co-Chair, Jenienne Hinchcliffe, asks, “Erm…why are fewer young people choosing apprenticeships?”

March 16, 2023

Recent research that showed a fall in the number of young people choosing apprenticeships set a few alarm bells ringing across the region.

The study, by our friends at NELEP, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and ourselves at NEAAN, confirmed what many of us thought about falling apprenticeship numbers, but it will also help inform our preparation for a plan to reverse the drop off.

As Co-Chair of NEAAN with my colleague Ian Green, our Ambassadors and I are well-versed in the many opportunities and benefits apprenticeships offer… but are our messages reaching the correct audience? Maybe not.

Stats show there has been a steady decline in numbers of young people embarking on apprenticeships for the past eight years, so this is an issue that pre-dates the impact of the apprentice levy, the retraction of the economy during the pandemic or significant impact of Brexit on business expansion and investment plans.

There is no doubt, these things have had an impact too, but there are clearly other factors for the decline.

So, what did we learn…

  • The North East has the lowest number of apprenticeships starts
  • They account for just 6% of the total starts nationally
  • U19s starts continues to fall.

But, on a more positive note, we also discovered that the apprenticeships that are being taken up are clearly of high value…92% of people starting an apprenticeship progress to a positive outcome, whether that be a job or higher training opportunities.

This research improves our knowledge base – while we may not know the exact reasons for the decline, we know it’s happening, and we know we must help address it.

While it’s a daunting challenge, it is an opportunity for us to step back, look at how we currently promote apprenticeships and embrace the opportunity for change.

And how do we do that?

Well, we can stop working in silos and start to pool resource. Take a holistic approach, not just leave it to schools, businesses or enthusiastic Apprentice Ambassadors. We can start by demystifying the apprenticeship and apprentice process, address and dispel misconceptions about their complexity, time commitment and bureaucracy. Promote the vacancies that are available, but almost as importantly, promote the opportunities they present – like the opportunity to gain a wage as you learn a trade, but also how many former apprentices are managers, heads of team, directors and CEOs.

While we’re obviously focused on the North East, we must also look at the national picture – work with stakeholders, what is working elsewhere, share best practice, and implement an apprentice ready framework.

And let’s up our game in secondary schools across the North East – make teachers aware of apprenticeship opportunities, but also enthuse students about the potential they possess. Our work with the Department for Education to improve the Find an Apprenticeship website and New College Durham to support regional SMEs wanting to deliver apprenticeships will help too.

But my main take away from the study was that we all need to do more.

A collective effort is vital to ensure more people are engaging with the apprenticeship agenda, talking up the benefits and addressing misconceptions.

Apprenticeships can solve recruitment challenges, open the door to a variety of careers, help retain a skilled workforce, provide a first experience of work, increase social mobility, reduce the number of NEETs…they’re great, so we need to do more to promote them 🙂


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