By Max Clarke

Increased government focus on apprenticeships has so far failed to significantly increase their numbers, nor make businesses more receptive to apprentices.

Nearly half of employers have not employed apprentices in the last three years, with two thirds of these saying that they consider apprenticeships inappropriate for their organisation.

This is one of the main findings from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) 2011 Learning and Talent Development Survey, highlighting the need for Government to work with employers to promote the business case for investing in apprenticeships.

Just one in three of the 500 employers surveyed say they plan to recruit apprenticeships this year. A larger proportion say that they do not intend to recruit apprenticeships this year and 22% say that they have no set plans in an uncertain economic climate, with widespread staffing requirements.

The survey was conducted before the Budget announced greater funding for apprenticeships. The findings show that this funding injection will be greatly appreciated by organisations struggling through site closures, recruitment freezes and budget restraints, with half of the respondents reporting in January that more generous public funding would encourage their organisation to create new or additional places.

Over the past three years, apprenticeships have been most common in manufacturing and production, with 68% employing apprentices (compared to 35% in private sector services, 53% in the public sector and 46% in the third sector).

“Demand for apprentices in England has always been very low, especially when compared internationally,” commented Katerina Rudiger, CIPD skills policy adviser: “The Government therefore needs to do more to make the business case to employers, highlighting the benefits apprentices can bring to organisations, such as relevant skills, loyalty, higher quality and greater productivity.

Rudiger continued: “Furthermore, if apprenticeships are to contribute to raising the UK’s intermediate skills base and provide a real way into professions, they need to be of high quality. The proportion of higher-level apprenticeships in England is still too low, with our research showing most still pitched at a low level. The overall brand and credibility of apprenticeships in the labour market will be enhanced if employers can be encouraged to offer more apprenticeships at a higher level. Government also needs to be wary of the risk of funding lower-level apprenticeships that are comprised primarily of the kind of initial on the job training that employers would have had to provide anyway.

“Apprenticeship provision needs to improve, by increasing the volume and quality of relevant training, and also through employers providing clear progression routes. The real return from apprenticeships is only achieved where the employer is willing to provide career progression beyond the initial apprenticeship.”