North East Devolution and Levelling Up

North continues to lag on apprenticeships

The north of England, including the North East, is continuing to lag behind the south in apprenticeships just as there are signs that more skilled jobs will be coming on line in the region.

Now a group of employers has launched a campaign for reform of the Apprenticeship Levy in a bid to reverse the trend and secure an extra £300m for training.

According to research by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), the number of people starting an apprenticeship nationally over the past two years has fallen by 58,000, a drop of 19%. The impact has been worst in the north of England, where the number dropped by 23,000 – a 22% decrease.

According to the research, the proportion of people aged 16-64 with post A-Level and equivalent vocational qualifications in the north increased from 23 per cent in 2004 to 38 per cent in 2020 but is still 7% less than the rest of the country.

There are, however, signs that better progress is being made in several of the region’s strategically important economic priorities including green energy, digital and health innovation.

Recent weeks have seen North East industrial developments announced in fields like electric vehicles and the batteries to power them and in green energy, which will provide thousands of new jobs, as reported on this website.

The new Northern Coalition on Skills is campaigning to return apprenticeship numbers to pre-pandemic levels and reform the way the Apprenticeship Levy works so that companies can make use of the full allocation available; in 2019/2020, according to the NPP, businesses lost out on more than £300m in skills funding from the government due to rules about how the money can be used.

Steve Murrells, chief executive of the Co-op and NPP board member, said: ‘If we genuinely want to build back Britain different and better, then this must be a decade of collective action when it comes to apprenticeships that benefits all communities right across the country.

‘These apprenticeship figures suggest a staggering north-south divide when it comes to the futures of our young people and, in turn, the skills that will avoid putting our wellbeing and economy at risk in the north. Reform of the Apprenticeship Levy is a vital building block to ensure this happens.’

Sarah Mulholland, head of policy at the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: ‘A skilled, well-paid workforce is the backbone of a productive economy.

‘It’s time to begin opening up the industries of the future – electric vehicles, green energy, machine learning – to the next generation of workers through investment in apprenticeships and other training opportunities for our young people.

‘The north has the history, the expertise and the tools to lead a fourth industrial revolution. We now need government and businesses to work together to level up opportunity across the country and close the north-south divide in skills for good.’