Growth in apprenticeships: fair or fake?

With Tom Richmond, former advisor to Skills Ministers (Whieldon, 2020), claiming that over £1bn has been wasted on ‘fake apprenticeships’, it seems timely to say something about the growth in apprenticeships at Wakefield College.

The College has seen an increase of around 36% in apprentice numbers since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. Whilst the proportion of Higher Level apprentices (7% of those in learning in 2018-19) is relatively small compared with those on Intermediate and Advanced levels, the increase in student numbers of more than 110% since the levy was introduced is appreciable.

At Level 4 there has been growth in engineering manufacturing and accounting, and through the introduction of new apprenticeships in healthcare science and data analysis. At Level 5 the growth has been in management, where growth has more than compensated for a decline in health & social care leadership.

Richmond (Whieldon, 2020) says that employers have used up over £550m of levy funding on rebadged management training and professional development courses for more experienced employees. From our experience the levy along with Government targets have certainly encouraged large public sector organisations to upskill employees. Whilst many are experienced practitioners, they lack higher level qualifications and the benefits which these bring. For example, NHS ward managers on the Level 5 operational/departmental management standard who have extensive clinical experience and plan activities on a day-to-day basis are now able to use theoretical frameworks and leadership models to support financial decision making.

The College has not rebadged its higher level qualifications but we have embraced the opportunity provided by the levy to support employees to achieve higher level qualifications and skills in a District that needs them. Given the small percentage of higher level learners attributed to the growth at the College, it is also fair to say that our growth is disparate across the levels and areas and is therefore more sustainable.


Tony Rex, Assistant Principal, Wakefield College


Whieldon, F. (2020) Over £1bn already wasted on ‘fake apprenticeships’, claims former adviser to skills ministers. FE Week [Online] Tuesday, 7 January 2020