What is the future of apprenticeships?

06 August, 2020Karen Taylor

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, our Head of Apprenticeships, Karen Taylor outlines government measures to support apprenticeships and considers how apprentices can contribute to the long-term growth of a company.

Silver travelator moving into the horizon‘Unprecedented’ is a word that has been used a lot recently.  Unquestionably, over the past few months, we have all been experiencing circumstances the like of which we have never seen in our lifetime. And sadly, this is the case in the apprenticeships sector too.

Since the introduction of the levy in 2017 and the move to apprenticeship standards, the ongoing fall in apprenticeship starts has been well documented.

Yet, at the start of this year, it really did feel as though the tide was beginning to turn.

The Department for Education reported a 29.1% increase in higher level apprenticeships and a rise in apprenticeship participation of 6.2%. 

Fast forward to the height of the pandemic and bleak headlines abound. The number of apprenticeship starts had dropped to 9,000, compared to 23,200 a year earlier. 

Apprentices – especially in badly hit industries such as hospitality and aviation – were being furloughed or, worse, made redundant. Younger apprentices were, in particular, ‘squeezed out’ of the employment market.

Yet, despite this, there is a real and growing sense of optimism around the future of apprenticeships. 

Measures to support apprenticeships

Cast your mind back to one of the daily Downing Street briefings in early June when Boris Johnson first talked about ‘guaranteeing’ apprenticeships for young people

At the time, the simple mention of apprenticeships by the Prime Minister did feel like a huge and significant boost for a beleaguered part of the economy. 

Things have continued apace since then. 

Only a few days later, the Business Secretary took another positive step towards supporting the recovery of apprenticeships. He announced the launch of five ‘round tables’, comprised of business leaders and academics. One of these is titled, ‘Increasing opportunity: how to level up economic performance across the UK, including through skills and apprenticeships’. 

There was high-level backing from across the regions of the UK too, with the mayors of London, Manchester and Liverpool urging the government to take immediate steps to support apprenticeships.

Then came the well publicised employer incentives delivered by the Chancellor in his economic statement on 8 July. For the next six months, the government will pay businesses to hire apprentices, with a payment of £2,000 for each young apprentice.

But perhaps even more significant is the promise of a bonus of £1,500 for any apprentice recruited who is aged 25 or over – thereby encouraging the re-skilling of those forced to change career due to the impact of Covid-19. 

Industry reaction to government’s apprenticeship support

Some criticism has been levelled at this scheme. 

Many say that the incentives are too small and not worth the bother for employers. Graham Hasting-Evans – the Group Managing Director of NOCN, a leading apprenticeship end-point assessment organisation – has pointed out that businesses need to focus on survival and streamlining their workforce, rather than recruitment.

The size of companies’ levy pots will be shrinking as they shed staff.  Essentially, a case of demand outstripping supply.

Arguably, it’s not a time for ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ and there’s still a long, long way to go. 

Nevertheless, it is important that employers realise how valuable apprentices can be to the long-term growth of a company – especially for businesses that are paying the levy. 

Those organisations are at risk of missing out on the opportunity to utilise their own funds and avoid drawing down a dwindling learning and development budget. 

The last word, therefore, surely has to go to BAE Systems, defying the current turbulence and leading the charge with an 800-person apprentice recruitment drive – hopefully the first of many ‘silver linings’ in dark times.

Karen Taylor

Karen leads the development, implementation and delivery of our apprenticeship strategy, including at higher and degree-level. Karen had a previous career in banking including financial institution relationship management before joining LIBF to specialise on our higher education, online and postgraduate programmes.

Related content

Find out more about our Apprenticeships in Banking and Finance