Most apprentices losing work and learning opportunities amid Covid-19 – poll

The Government has been urged to help support apprenticeships Credit: Ian Nicholson/PA

Apprentices are being furloughed or made redundant by firms due to the Covid-19 crisis – and the majority are missing out on work experience or learning opportunities, a survey suggests.

The pandemic is having a significant effect on apprenticeships, according to a Sutton Trust report, which warns that a fall in apprenticeship starts is likely to be exacerbated by the crisis.

A YouGov poll of 156 employers suggests that more than three in five (61%) say their apprentices have lost out on learning or work experience as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Respondents said more than a third (36%) have been furloughed, around one in thirteen (8%) have been made redundant and 17% have had their off-the-job learning suspended.

Nearly one in four (24%) employers who offered apprenticeships said their apprentices’ learning provider had closed and 16% said their provider was unable to continue provision online.

The education charity warns that there will be fewer apprenticeship vacancies available for young people as firms are likely to focus on recovering from the coronavirus crisis.

The poll has been released alongside separate research from the Sutton Trust on degree apprenticeships – which combine academic learning and on-the-job training.

Well-off, older students have largely benefited from the growth in degree-level apprenticeships, according to the report, which shows more than half of degree apprenticeships at university are taken up by people aged 30 or over.

Senior leadership courses – equivalent to a Master of Business Administration (MBA) qualification – have expanded significantly in recent years.

But the proportion of young apprentices from deprived communities taking degree-level apprenticeships up has fallen from 9% in 2016-17 to 6% in 2018-19.

In that same time, the proportion of degree level apprentices older than 25 from the most advantaged areas has more than doubled – from 5% to 11%.

The charity is calling for apprenticeship levy funding to be spent on providing new opportunities for young people, rather than on subsidising senior executives taking MBA-style qualifications.

The report also recommends that apprentices should be allowed to continue training where possible, even when on furlough or if redeployed within a firm.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The coronavirus crisis has already had a serious impact on apprentices, with 61% being made redundant or furloughed, or unable to access their learning.

“The priority for current apprentices should be to continue their training where possible and the Government must do more to support training providers.

“In the long-term, apprenticeships have a crucial role to deliver on the Government’s social mobility agenda, which will be especially important as we come out of the pandemic.”

Andrew Harden, head of further education at the University and College Union (UCU), said: “The pandemic is having a major impact on apprenticeships with a majority missing out on work or their learning.

“The Government must step in and guarantee that apprentices don’t lose out from this crisis.”

Toby Perkins, Labour’s shadow apprenticeships minister, said: “Apprenticeships are crucial as a tool for social mobility and in our country’s fight against the productivity deficit that we have compared to other nations.

“This research demonstrates how precarious the apprenticeship sector is and the anticipated fall in new starts is deeply concerning.

“To address Britain’s productivity crisis, the Government needs a joined up approach to skills and apprenticeships in order to support the aspirations of the younger generation.”

YouGov surveyed 500 senior HR decision makers of which 156 were employing apprentices in March 2020. The online survey was carried out between April 9 and April 16