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No time to be ditching apprentices – they are the future

We were told recently that the impact of COVID-19 in 2020 led to our economy suffering its worst annual decline for 300 years. Contrast that with the declaration from Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s Chief Economist, that Britain was now “poised like a coiled spring” for a dramatic post-pandemic recovery. Not a man given to making rash statements, his optimism was good to hear in these challenging times.

However, given the current picture, it is hardly surprising that many businesses have decided to put their immediate plans on hold until the smoke clears. Unfortunately, one of the most regrettable casualties has been the UK’s apprenticeship programme – ironic, given that last week was ‘National Apprenticeship Week 2021’.

The Guardian newspaper reported that 743,000 people participated in apprenticeships in England in 2018-19, with 394,00 new starts. By May 2020, six out of 10 employers had withdrawn their schemes. The number of active apprenticeships fell by 18% last year with over 1,000 places lost through redundancy.

A recent In-Comm Training Barometer survey found that, while 9 out of 10 of the companies retained their existing apprentices, 64% failed to invest in any new intake last year. More than half had made cuts to training budgets (51%) and a similar proportion (53%) had dropped any immediate plans to take on young workers.

Whilst unwelcome but necessary for some businesses to survive, such actions have led to demands for further Government support – over and above last summer’s incentive payment scheme for apprentices – to ensure that a generation of school leavers does not miss out on vocational training and other employment opportunities.

Adding weight to the argument, In-Comm’s first-ever Training Barometer survey of 200 secondary school pupils found that 80% would consider vocational learning as a potential route to a full-time job. This is significant because it demonstrates that apprenticeships are no longer seen simply as the ‘fall back option’ if all else fails.

To capture the appetite for vocational learning, some are suggesting that a portion of the Apprenticeship Levy imposed on larger companies be redirected towards SMEs which otherwise would be unable to afford the cost of hiring and funding their subsequent training.

All sensible ideas are welcome if we are to bounce back as an economy in the manner that the Government and Bank of England are hoping.

Speaking for UnitBirwelco, like most businesses, while we have been impacted and we did take action, no apprentices have been laid off because of the pandemic. In fact, we added another four because we believe apprentices are a vital part of a golden future that lies ahead for those companies willing to back their business model and the skills of the future. Count us in.