A BUSINESS that is committed to supporting the apprenticeship offering in Cumbria has reacted to news of a downturn in recruitment.

HR body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development says a drop in new starts shows the apprenticeship levy introduced in 2017 has “failed on all key measures”.

Department for Education data shows people living in Cumbria started 3,650 apprenticeships in the 2019-20 academic year. That was down 16 per cent from 4,340 in the previous year, and a 38 per cent fall from the 5,870 in 2016-17, when the levy came into effect.

Tony Higgins, managing director of System People said: “The downturn in apprenticeships is a national issue, not just in Cumbria.”

Across England, 322,500 apprenticeships started last year – dropping by 18 per cent from 393,400 in 2018-19, and more than a third from 494,900 in 2016-17.

But the business is confident about the road ahead. Mr Higgins said: “What we’re seeing now is employers are a lot more interested in restarting their apprenticeship programmes.”

He called the brief drop in figures “understandable” given the financial pressure on business during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in the case of hospitality.

Mr Higgins said that under normal circumstances Cumbria would be a premier county in which to live and work.

“Cumbria has a rich and diverse offering of apprenticeships," he said. "We do have a feeling and some intelligence from employers that they are looking to get back to that pre-pandemic employment pattern.”

System People: Teaching Supply Apprenticeships Training is based at English Gate Plaza in Botchergate, Carlisle. They are working with both small businesses and larger corporations like Asda and Tesco to support their offering of paid traineeships.

As well as supporting businesses with their apprenticeships, they also help their potential employees find them – and if none of their businesses are a good fit, they’ll help them find one that is.

Speaking of SMEs, Mr Higgins said: “They’ve been very generous. As well as apprenticeships they’re very good at providing work experience opportunities.”