Introduced by the UK government as part of its Industrial Strategy in April 2017, the apprenticeship levy has experienced challenges from its inception. As we face a climb out of the economic crunch that covid-19 has pushed us into, it's important to understand what is happening with apprenticeships and the role they could play.

Currently we are seeing a stark decline in apprenticeship starts. The latest government stats for the month of March 2020 show start are down by a quarter while April plunged by 72pc on the previous year. The DfE said that Covid-19 has resulted in the closure of colleges and we have heard many employers are unable to start or continue apprenticeships as planned. What's more, this has hit disadvantaged learners hardest. 

Sadly this is not a new trend. Despite government commitments, even before the pandemic, the number of apprenticeship starts in the first half of the last academic year had dropped by 11%, with an even greater drop of 15% for those aged between 16 and 19.

All in all covid-19 has been extremely hard on apprentices:

  • two-thirds of apprentices have lost out on work experience or learning,
  • more than a third furloughed.
  • 8% have been made redundant and
  • 17% have had off-the-job learning suspended.
  • a 36% decline in apprenticeship starts by people from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared with 23% for others

This data is incredibly worrying. Not just because our skills deficit will widen – the OECD found that 40% of workers in the UK are in a job for which they are not properly qualified – but, more significantly, because "hundreds of thousands of young people may not have a chance to climb the jobs ladder once this awful pandemic is over." Robert Halfon, Education Select Committee Chairman

We can turn this around. The levy is here to stay. The government has committed that, where apprentices are made redundant, it is their ambition to find them alternative employment and continue their apprenticeship as quickly as possible and within 12 weeks. Employers can and are implementing a “break in learning” policy with extensions to assessment time frames.

Looking forward, several sources predict increase in apprenticeship hires in sectors such as product development, engineering, technology and healthcare. Covid-19 has transformed these industries and even shifted public opinion of skills, which may result in an increase in apprenticeship starts in some key areas. Emphasis on MAY here, as all of these sectors have experienced reduced and rescinded apprenticeship offers this year. 

Post pandemic is an important moment for “re-establishing a ladder of opportunity” and it has forced providers to innovate and break legacy training methods. While not ideal for every apprenticeship, there are many reports that that remote delivery works well as allows apprentices to prioritise their time fitting work around their study and avoids unproductive and costly travel time.

Apprenticeships play a hugely important role as we emerge into a post-pandemic society and Boris Johnson has agreed to look at £3bn apprenticeship guarantee that pays training costs and eases concerns of funding from employers.

And why should your company keep apprentices in their talent strategy. Three stand out reasons: 

1) Remember that 90 per cent of qualified apprentices then stay on with their employers. It remains an excellent ‘grow your own talent’ strategy and retention tool.

2) It is a superb way to bigger boost earnings for those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. If your company cares about being a catalyst for sustained change in the community, apprenticeships are the way to do it. 

3) It remains the number 1 way to build the skill your company needs as it needs it, where it needs it.