The tradition of apprenticeships in the UK goes back centuries, but it is the last two decades in particular that have seen apprenticeships come to the forefront of skills and training. In 1995, when Modern Apprenticeships were created, around 180,000 people undertook an apprenticeship.3 By 2011/12, that had reached 520,600 in England alone and while numbers have reduced in the years since, the Government’s manifesto commitment to creating 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020 was reiterated in the Chancellor’s 2016 Budget.4

An apprenticeship is firstly and foremost a job, in which the employer hires an apprentice, pays a wage and provides both off and on the job training, often with an external training provider. As such, they sit on the boundary between employment and training – and the balance of emphasis between these two elements has shifted over recent years.

Immediately following the financial crash in 2008, apprenticeships were promoted as a way of tackling youth unemployment.5 More recently, as the threat of recession has been replaced by the ‘productivity puzzle’, the focus has shifted to how apprenticeships can be used to address skills shortages and increase productivity.6

However the purpose has framed, there are important issues that have been raised about whether or not the apprenticeships being delivered under our current system are meeting these ambitions.7

For cities and their partners involved in delivering apprenticeships on a day to day basis, such as employers, training providers, local authorities and colleges, the system is often complex and difficult to navigate. This report explores how cities and their partners are responding to this complexity and how they are flexing the system to deliver the local outcomes that employers and apprentices want. Part one reviews the changing policy landscape and some of the potential impacts of these changes. Part two sets out a series of case studies which explore some of the ways in which local partners have been proactive in addressing those challenges, and the final section draws out conclusions and implications for cities and for national Government.


  • 3 Mizra-Davies J (2015) Apprenticeship Policy, England prior to 2010. House of Commons Library Briefing Paper Number 07266, 23 July 2015.
  • 4 BIS (2016) Skills Funding Agency Data, apprenticeship starts
  • 5 Daily Mirror (2010) ‘Gordon Brown: Why Tory cuts condemn our children to a bleak, jobless future’ http://bit.ly/1TQOdkF
  • 6 HM Treasury (2015) Fixing the foundations http://bit.ly/1Sf6gC0 BIS (2015) Apprenticeships Levy http://bit.ly/1N85moz
  • 7 For example, Wolf A (2011) Review of Vocational Education – the Wolf Report. London, DfE. http://bit.ly/1Q6rdHI Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. Response to apprenticeships inquiry. http://bit.ly/1XuU6TF