Three in five organisations have stopped recruiting apprentices due to Covid-19, survey finds

Experts warn of high unemployment among young people and future skills shortages if apprenticeship providers are not offered more support

Three-fifths (60 per cent) of employers have stopped all new apprenticeship starts since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to research. 

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) surveyed 80 apprenticeship providers and also found three-quarters of employers had stopped at least 80 per cent of the starts normally expected at this time of year. 

The survey also found a third (34 per cent) of apprentices had a less than one in five chance of completing their programmes or end point assessment in the expected timescale. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of apprentices had less than a 60 per cent chance of completing. 

Lizzie Crowley, skills and policy advisor at the CIPD, said the results were “not surprising”, confirming that apprenticeships would take longer to complete in the current crisis. “However, ensuring we maintain a training infrastructure that is ready to provide the skills that we need for the future is very important,” she added.

“We know from the previous recession that young people from countries with really strong apprentice systems were sheltered from the worst of the economic downturn, and the areas of unemployment were considerably lower compared to countries with a weaker system.” 

The research highlighted that provider cash flow was being reduced at both ends of the apprenticeship pipeline, with providers only receiving funding from the government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency when an apprentice starts. Additionally, 20 per cent of the total funding depends on the apprenticeship’s completion, which could put providers that are unable to deliver training as a result of the lockdown in financial difficulty.  

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Last month, the AELP accused the Department for Education (DfE) of a “refusal to comply” with guidance that stated government departments should continue to pay suppliers during the outbreak. The AELP claimed seven in 10 apprentices in England were trained by private providers, meaning a lack of funding put apprenticeship schemes on “the brink of collapse”.

In March, the DfE issued guidance for private apprenticeship providers which made it easier for both trainers and apprentices to initiate breaks of a month or more to help maintain social distancing rules. But the rules stipulated that providers would only be paid “retrospectively for the training they have delivered and can evidence”, meaning many private providers were not eligible for financial support.

Less than 4 per cent of training providers had managed to obtain a Treasury-backed Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan, with another 21 per cent waiting to hear if their application was successful, the AELP research highlighted. 

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the AELP, said training providers could not keep delivering remote training indefinitely if their income was drying up. “The government needs to support young people with apprenticeships now and to reskill unemployed adults, and it needs good quality training providers operating around the country to be able to do this,” he said.

Crowley agreed the government had a “key role to play” in ensuring young people and businesses were able to access apprenticeships.

Mike Cherry, national chair of the Federation of Small Business (FSB), said small employers in particular needed support to continue benefiting from offering apprenticeships. “We cannot allow a generation of apprentices to be lost during this pandemic. Small businesses will need support to continue offering apprentices during the recovery from the Covid-19 outbreak,” he said

He added: “Apprenticeships are a crucial way of developing skills in individuals, training up employees, as well as upskilling the next generation of workers across the country. [They] have been long at the forefront of small businesses and have been forced to quickly adapt to the current climate, keeping businesses going and sometimes even contributing to efforts to tackle [coronavirus] and support our health services.”