Covid-19 has brought a unique set of difficulties for young apprentices. This group is suffering both from the employment crisis and from complications with the support that they need to learn and progress. 1 in 5 of all apprentices have been made redundant, are on a break in learning or have left their programmes. Evidence suggests that the young are most likely to be left in these unfortunate positions. 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).
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. This includes furloughed apprentices who can continue their studies while not working. Young apprentices nevertheless face delays to assessments and difficulties with remote learning, preventing them from completing their apprenticeships. This in turn causes problems with opening up apprenticeship opportunities for the next cohort of young people.
Even prior to Covid-19, apprenticeships among young learners were in decline with starts for under-19s falling 23% between 2015/16 and 2018/19. This is despite government targets made in 2015 to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, with a focus on young people in particular. These targets were not achieved, and now apprentice starts are plummeting against a backdrop of rising youth unemployment. 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. Research has also found that employers are hiring 32% fewer people onto apprentice or school leaver programmes this year, and projections indicate that the lowest qualified school leavers will be 37% less likely to be in work in 3 years’ time.
This briefing gives an overview of the major challenges during the pandemic with insights from current apprentices, as well as mapping out some of the harmful domino effects facing future cohorts. The complexity and diversity of their circumstances, as well as an absence of some key data, has meant that their experiences and prospects have been somewhat overlooked so far in discussions about vulnerable young people at a national level. Without more attention and action, there are multiple indicators that this vital alternative to formal education could become much less accessible, closing off opportunities for a group which the government has committed to invest in.