Wales' economy minister Vaughan Gething
Wales’ economy minister Vaughan Gething

Concerns have been raised about low take-up of apprenticeships and a broken manifesto promise after a £17.5 million budget cut.

Vaughan Gething, Wales’ economy minister, said the Welsh Government would not hit a target of creating 125,000 all-age apprenticeships within this Senedd term.

The commitment was included in Labour’s election manifesto but Mr Gething told the Senedd it will take at least one more year.

Plaid Cymru’s Luke Fletcher pressed the economy minister on the target during a statement in the Senedd on employability and skills.

The shadow minister said latest statistics show there have been 33,365 apprenticeship starts since the target was set in 2021.

He added: “Clearly, there needs to be a rapid acceleration in the creation of apprenticeships, far beyond the rate we’ve witnessed so far this term, for the target to be met within the next two-and-a-half years.”

Mr Gething replied: “I am still confident we’ll see more apprenticeship starts in this Senedd term … but we’ll need at least another year to get to 125,000.”

Budget cut

Mr Fletcher, who represents South Wales West, highlighted that the budget for apprenticeship programmes is going to be reduced by £17.5m this year.

“This saving has been justified on the basis that the programmes are demand-led,” he said. “But this does raise a serious question as to why there wasn’t more take-up.”

Mr Gething said demand has fallen due to a flat economy over the past 12 months.

The minister pointed to a challenging backdrop of the pandemic, labour shortages, the cost-of-living crisis and the loss of £1 billion of EU funding.

He claimed good progress has been made against the Welsh Government’s employability and skills plan which was launched in March 2022.

But he warned: “We have had to make some difficult budget decisions.

“As a result, it is likely we will not be able to deliver everything to the same scale or ambition as we set out.”

Paul Davies, the Conservatives’ shadow economy minister, highlighted the findings of a review which called for a national strategy for vocational education and training.

He also told MSs there is much more Wales could do to support people with long-term health conditions into work.

The former Conservative group leader welcomed free mid-life career reviews, which encourage workers aged 50 and above to think about career and skills development.

Meanwhile, Caerphilly’s Labour MS Hefin David welcomed support for rail engineering degree apprenticeships during plenary on Tuesday October 24.

Caerphilly Senedd Member Hefin David speaking in the Senedd
Caerphilly Senedd Member Hefin David speaking in the Senedd

Disabled children

Jayne Bryant, who chairs the children’s committee, raised concerns about parents of disabled children giving up work due to difficulty accessing education or childcare.

She said: “As part of evidence gathering for our inquiry into disabled access into childcare and education, we’ve heard lots of stark personal stories demonstrating the barriers for parents and carers of children with additional needs in securing or maintaining employment.

“Parents and carers told us they’ve either had to stop working or have been unable to return to work, because they cannot secure any appropriate accessible education or childcare, or because they are expected by schools or childcare to be available at any given moment.

“These expectations of constant availability don’t exist for parents of non-disabled children.”