Almost half of managers at UK companies think the Government will fail to hit its target of creating 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, new research has found.

The Government set the target in 2015 but official figures show the numbers of new apprenticeships slumped last year.

Of 1,640 managers polled by the Chartered Management Institute, 51 per cent expressed concern that the country will need greater investment in skills after Brexit as the number of EU immigrants falls.

More than a fifth said delays in standards for apprenticeship schemes being approved and implemented had reduced the number of those taking them up.

Around 900 new apprentices have been waiting to start an apprenticeship in management since the standard being approved in August, the CMI said.

When asked how the number of people taking up apprenticeships could be increased, 80 per cent of managers said they wanted the freedom to spend the levy on small businesses in their supply chains.

The news comes as National Apprenticeship Week begins on Monday. It suggests further problems with the Government’s programme intended to boost vocational education as an alternative to university.

The aims of the apprenticeship levy have been broadly welcomed by businesses since it was introduced in April last year. The CMI’s survey shows 63 per cent agreed that the apprenticeship levy, which pays for the scheme, is necessary to increase employer investment in skills.

However, the way the levy has been implemented has attracted criticism from many firms. All companies with a turnover of £3m or more must pay 0.5 per cent of their payroll costs into a central pot for training. But understanding of how the scheme works and the benefits companies receive from it is poor and take-up rates have fallen.

According to the Department for Education’s latest figures, 114,400 apprenticeships were started in England in the three months from August to October 2017, 49,800 down on the same period the previous year.

Less than half of managers surveyed by the CMI said they expect that number of new starts to increase in the next 12 months. 

Petra Wilton, director of strategy for the CMI, said the Government now needs to do far more to widen access to the scheme and raise awareness about the benefits apprenticeships can deliver.

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton said the survey results showed managers back the levy. “I want businesses and everyone to get the skills they need to grow and feedback like this shows that apprenticeships are helping them do just that,” she said.