• News
  • 31st October 2018

First apprenticeship survey released

Article by Amanda Jasi

SCIENCE Industry Partnership (SIP), a membership organisation for employers across the UK’s science industries, has released its first ever Apprenticeship Survey. The survey offers the first opportunity to analyse information on apprenticeships across the science industries, which are strategic centres of the UK’s economy.

The findings provide insight into the use of apprenticeships across the science sector and reveal the impact and use of the apprenticeship levy. Apprenticeship levy is a tax on UK employers which can be recovered to fund apprenticeship training. In the 2018/19 tax year the levy is payable by all employers with a total annual pay bill of more than £3m (US$3.8m) at a rate of 0.5% of their total pay bill.

92 companies participated, providing “robust and representative” data. The respondents covered a workforce of 120,000 and 20% of the science industry sector. Of the survey respondents 74% are levy partners and 26% are not paying in.

The survey found that the UK science sector is only recovering 13% of the apprenticeship levy that it is raising. £20m of funds remains unrecovered. In addition, 28% of the companies that are paying in to the levy, with a levy obligation totalling about £3.5m, are not recovering any levy at all to spend on training.

Despite the low recovery of levy entitlement, employers in this high performing sector of the economy, including those in life sciences and industrial sciences, remain committed to using apprenticeships to meet the sector’s requirements of about 260,000 additional staff in the next decade. This requirement is based on a forecast made the by SIP’s Skills Strategy 2025. It was predicted that between 2015 and 2025 the science industries cumulative demand for skilled science and technical staff will range between 180,000 to 260,000.

The Skills Strategy 2025 also set a target of 4,000 new apprentices per year to meet skills needs. Between April 2017 and March 2018, only 2,431 apprenticeship starts were recorded. But, while targets are not being met, the science industry has not experienced the downturn in apprenticeship starts reported more widely following significant reforms to the apprenticeship system in England. The 2017/18 figures are, for the science sector, comparable to the same period in 2016/17 (2,537).

Following the survey, SIP, in a joint effort with the government, made a number of key recommendations with the aim of increasing uptake.

Michael Skingle, chair of SIP and director at GSK, said: “Findings from our important sector-wide survey are telling us that some of the apprenticeship reforms are not working for us and we are making a series of joint industry-government recommendations aimed at bringing about greater uptake. The good news is that many of us are using apprenticeships to grow our talent, and this is leading to fantastic careers in critical business areas such as bioinformatics, advanced manufacturing, and scientific research – but we do need to see a much greater uptake. Our survey is an important exercise to gather an even deeper understanding of the uptake of apprenticeships and will support the skills dimension of future phases of industry sector deals.”

Survey findings

The findings of Apprenticeship Survey 2018 show:

  • A majority of the raised apprenticeship levy remains unrecovered: Only 13% of the apprenticeship levy raised by respondents has been recovered to train apprentices. Of the total recovered, 26% was for industrial sciences, and 6% for life sciences.
  • Companies want more flexibility in the apprenticeship levy: 38% want flexibility with regards to the 20% off-the-job training rule. 28% would like more time to spend the funds.
  • Apprenticeship standards and training provisions are insufficient to meet needs: 56% of respondents want a wider range of standards to be developed. 30% would like more fit-for-purpose training provision.
  • Apprenticeship are still popular: 74% of the responding employers plan to train apprentices in the next 12 months
  • Apprenticeships are being increasingly used for upskilling: 40% of respondents have started using apprenticeships to upskill or retrain existing employees
  • Apprenticeships are less established in the life sciences: Of the 1,430 apprenticeships reported in the survey 812 are in industrial sciences, and 618 are in life sciences
  • There are still issues with diversity: 38% of apprentices in life sciences are female, and the female cohort is only 26% for industrial sciences
  • There are more higher-level apprenticeships in the science sector compared to other sectors: In the science sector 30% of apprenticeships are higher-level (levels 4–7), 54% of the these are in life sciences, and 28% are industrial sciences. In all other sectors of the economy there are 12% higher-level apprenticeships.
  • Telephone consultations revealed that science employers would like to see more promotion of the apprenticeship route into science careers


A series of joint industry government recommendations were made in the released survey report. The recommendations are aimed at allowing the science industry to take greater advantage of the apprenticeship reform agenda in order to support their business. The recommendations are:

  1. Introduce the ability for employers to collaborate and pool unspent levy and support SMEs through vehicles such as apprenticeship training agencies (ATAs)
  2. Continue developing employer-led apprenticeship standards and ensure that providers are capable of delivering them
  3. Introduce flexibility to apprenticeships and levy use to increase company engagement
  4. Increase the profile and promotion of the apprenticeship route into the science industry sector
  5. Record apprenticeship data at a sectoral level and ensure the use of sector levy to support industrial strategy and sector deals

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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