“Just being in the dark, it’s like, none of us know what’s happening… with jobs, with college, with money. It’s just like being off for summer holidays again, not knowing when it’s going to end”
Covid-19 has presented challenges for all apprentices, but the young are bearing the brunt of the crisis. They are more likely to be in the sectors which are struggling due to the pandemic – over 55% of workers aged 16-19 years are in hospitality and retail compared to 18% of the wider workforce – and they are over-represented in practical fields such as construction where working from home is a challenge. Young workers are also at greater risk of being furloughed then older ones (by 9 percentage points).
It has been estimated that 1 in 5 of all apprentices have been made redundant, are on a break in learning or have left their programmes. Since the young tend to be concentrated in more insecure sectors right now, it follows that young apprentices are most likely to have their courses disrupted in these ways. These difficulties are even more worrying given the characteristics of those who tend to choose vocational qualifications. Apprentices are often those who have struggled with formal education and therefore need alternative career paths available to them.
Many providers are doing everything they can to continue training for their apprentices across this period, with one survey finding that 81% are still learning. Furloughed apprentices can continue to learn and many apprentices have welcomed this opportunity to catch up on their coursework. Others however have struggled with the transition to remote learning, especially those without decent technology or those in more practical courses like bricklaying or plumbing.
“I’ve been furloughed but I’ve not had any money through yet ‘cos when my boss’s accountant tries to get onto the website it’s just like hours of queues and we can’t actually get onto it to apply … normally I get paid monthly but this is the fifth week or something so five weeks or something … It’s just me and [my boss] working so he’s self-employed so he can’t afford to pay out of his own pocket”
Additionally, while the government has taken action to enable more assessments (EPAs) to be done online, this is not always possible. This has prevented some apprentices from completing their programmes and transitioning to the next stage of their learning. Delays also have implications for the next cohort of young people wishing to start apprenticeships.
Even prior to Covid-19, apprenticeships among younger age groups were in decline with starts for under-19s falling 23% between 2015/16 and 2018/19 despite government targets to boost apprenticeships for young people. Now apprentice starts are plummeting at a time when employment opportunities for young people in general are being depleted. Figures released on 29th May show that only 1,040 apprenticeship starts took place among under 19 year olds between 23rd March to 30th April 2020 compared with 4,020 for the same period last year. Recent analysis from the IFS showing that under-25 year olds are 2.5 times more likely to work in a sector that has now shut down. Moreover, the Resolution Foundation has projected that the lowest qualified school leavers will be 37% less likely to be in work in 3 years’ time.
We’re calling on the government to do everything it can to halt this crisis in apprenticeships and keep vocational routes into employment alive. This will involve a coordinated strategy to both relocate current apprentices and support those who want to start them but may be delayed. It will also mean financial support for providers who have not been able to access relief so far. Continued data releases will be needed on apprentice starts as well as completions, and breaks in learning broken down by age and level. This data will be crucial to the wider strategy on retaining and boosting apprentice numbers.