This article should be read alongside: Clash of the manifestos: the quality of apprenticeships
"We have boosted the number of apprenticeships to record levels—2.2 million over the last five years"—Conservative manifesto
"Two million apprenticeships, training our young people for 21st century jobs [...] more people have started an apprenticeship in this Parliament than ever before"—Liberal Democrat manifesto
"In the past year the number of young people starting apprenticeships has fallen"—Labour manifesto
At first glance it might appear as if the Coalition parties disagree on the number of apprenticeships that have been started since the beginning of the 2010/11 academic year. But the claims made here are all accurate in terms of the numbers; it's in the detail of who's benefiting (or not) that there's a discrepancy.
The Coalition committed to delivering 2 million apprenticeships in England by the time of the upcoming election—which they've achieved and exceeded by 177,000 (when you include the estimated figures for the 2014/15 academic year).
The Conservatives report this as 2.2 million, while the Liberal Democrats say 2 million (perhaps to link to their target, or maybe just a difference of rounding).
The Liberal Democrats also refer to training "young people" for 21st century jobs.
But it's those aged 25 and over that have seen the biggest increase. Apprenticeship starts for this age group more than tripled between 2009/10 and 2013/14, while starts increased by 3% for the under 19s. Put another way, 4 in 10 of apprenticeship starts since 2010 have been by those aged 25 and over.
And as Labour refers to in its manifesto, starts among the under 25 age group fell slightly from 279,900 in 2012/13 to 278,900 in 2013/14. A 5,000 increase among the under 19s was counterbalanced by a slightly larger fall among 19-24 year olds.
These levels are high by rough historical figures. From the 1950s to the late 1970s there were fewer than 200,000 apprenticeships started each year, declining to fewer than 50,000 from then until the mid-1990s when the modern apprenticeship was introduced. The number started each year has been mostly increasing ever since (up to 450,000 in 2010).
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