Apprenticeship cuts undermine Welsh economy ambitions, says NTFW

A federation of training providers has pointedly questioned how the Welsh Government will achieve its “mission for a stronger economy” by slashing investment in apprenticeships in Wales.

Ahead of an economic summit in Ebbw Vale later this week, Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething today set out four priorities that he said will shape how Wales will sit “alongside the wave of economies turning active industrial policy into new skills for long term prosperity”.

The Welsh Government is prioritising “ambition for stand-out Welsh strengths, green prosperity, skills and local jobs”.

The minister called on businesses to commit to empowering women and bringing down barriers in the workplace, especially in those sectors where they are most under-represented, however the minister’s comments have surprised National Training Federation for Wales (NTFW) members who are dealing with a £17.5M cut in apprenticeship funding- and the cuts don’t stop there.

NTFW members, who deliver apprenticeships across Wales, are now in talks with the Welsh Government which is proposing further major cuts which could result in 10,000 fewer apprentices over the next two years.

“NTFW members are puzzled by the Economy Minister’s mission statement, in which he prioritises skills, yet the Welsh Government is making significant cuts to the apprenticeship budget,” said the NTFW’s strategic director Lisa Mytton.

“The only way he is going to achieve his ambitions is by economic growth and supporting apprenticeships to build a skilled workforce.

“As budget discussions continue, we are challenging the Welsh Government to consider the wider impact of further cuts to apprenticeship funding on young people, disabled learners and employers.

“Data shows that the cuts will impact those from the most deprived areas and those young people who are the most disadvantaged. They will fall disproportionately onto young people, female workers and individuals from lower socio-economic groups.

“This is totally at odds with the aspirations of an apprenticeship programme which not only supports but advances social mobility.”

“In addition to the significant impact the cuts will have on the aspirations of individuals and the Welsh economy, NTFW members will need to prioritise their provision based on existing commitments to employers and seriously consider the viability of supporting many specialist and niche markets.

“Work-based learning providers will look to service core employers, many of whom pay the apprenticeship levy and SMEs operating in local, national and regional priority areas.”

The NTFW challenges the Welsh Government’s statement that the recent £17.5m cut is due a perceived lack of demand for apprenticeships from employers.

“This is simply not the case,” said Ms Mytton. “In fact, there has been no reduction in demand for new apprenticeship starts. The Welsh Government’s own published data shows an increase in apprenticeships starts in the first half of 2022-‘23, compared to the same period a year earlier.

“The reasons for the programme underspend in 2022-‘23 was a legacy of the pandemic, business decisions because of Brexit and inflationary pressures and impacts of changes in the qualifications systems.”

She highlighted that the cuts contradict the Labour Party’s view of apprenticeships which is: “Skills are the currency with which future opportunity will be bought by British companies. The speed and scope of change is greater than at any point in our history and an effective response requires wide ranging changes in the way we think about, plan and deliver skills training and education on a national, regional and local level.

“We need apprenticeships that can flex to meet the needs of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) who are the critical agents of change.”

The cuts also contradict a statement made by Mr Gething earlier this year when deferring for one year the Welsh Government’s target of creating 125,000 apprenticeships in the current Senedd term.

At the time, he blamed the absence European Union funding and inflationary costs, but insisted that all apprenticeships remained a top priority, as he announced extra investment of £36m over two years.

“We need to deliver apprenticeships that will raise productivity, create quality jobs and respond to the skills needs of the future, such as growing delivery in the net zero and digital sectors,” he added.

Picture caption:

Lisa Mytton – NTFW wants to know how Welsh Government’s skills priority will be achieved by slashing apprenticeship funding.