Apprentices hit hard by pandemic

Unite calls for gov’t to support apprentices and young people amid crisis

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At a time that when industry must look to the future to rebuild the economy after the coronavirus crisis, employers are taking a short-term view by axeing apprenticeships. 

A new poll out today (May 20) from the Sutton Trust has found that apprentices have been hit hard by the pandemic, with a majority of them losing out on work experience or learning opportunities. A shocking one in 13 apprentices have been made redundant.

The survey of nearly 200 employers found that up to three-fifths have reported their apprentices have lost out on work or learning experiences, with more than a third furloughed and just under 10 per cent made redundant. Nearly one in five have had all off-the-job learning suspended.

A quarter of employers offering apprenticeships have said their apprenticeship learning provider has shut down and about 16 per cent have said they are unable to continue their learning provision online.

The latest findings on apprenticeships during the pandemic come as separate research from the Sutton Trust found that apprenticeships have not offered young people the sort of social mobility that they were created to do. 

Degree level apprenticeships, introduced in 2015 as an alternative to a university education and which provide a combination of academic learning and work experience, have mostly been taken up by older, more affluent students.

The research shows that more than half of degree-level apprenticeships have been taken up by people aged 30 or over, while the proportion of young people under 25 from deprived communities taking on degree apprenticeships has fallen from 9 per cent in 2016/17 to just 6 per cent  in 2018/19

Meanwhile, the proportion of degree-level apprenticeship participants who are over 30 and from more well-off areas has more than doubled over the same time period.

Commenting on the charity’s research, Sutton Trust founder and chairman Peter Lampl 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,” he added.

“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.”

The University and College Union has called on the government to start a new public sector apprenticeship programme in areas such as health and social care to aid in the post-Covid-19 economic recovery.  

“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,” said UCU head of further education Andrew Warden.

“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of sectors like health and social care, and new a programme of apprenticeships across the public sector will help lead to our recovery.”

While apprentices have been hit particularly hard, young people overall are bearing the brunt of the economic pain of the coronavirus epidemic and lockdown.

Research from the Resolution Foundation last month found that workers under the age of 25 have been those most likely to have lost their jobs during the pandemic. The think tank found that one in three young people have been either furloughed or have lost their jobs altogether, while more than one in three have had their pay cut since the crisis began.

The Resolution Foundation called on the government to offer young people targeted support to get back into work, or else risk ‘permanent scarring’ – where people who are made jobless struggle to find work for years.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said young people must not again be made to pay for a crisis after also bearing the brunt of austerity.

“Our young people are our present here today and not just our future.  It will be through our cross generational collective efforts that we find our way out of what we fear will be a long and very damaging recession negatively impacting on the prospects of a generation,” he said. “It is a damning indictment of this government that a falling number of young people from deprived communities have been given the opportunity to take on high-quality degree level apprenticeships, while a huge proportion of young people forced into precarious, low paid work have lost their jobs in this crisis.

“We urge the government to take up our call to develop a National Council for Recovery, together with unions, that can as a central part of its remit, offer a jobs guarantee and specific targeted support to young people as we seek to recover and rebuild employment as the pandemic subsides,” he added. “It is young people who will be those to lead the way in building a fairer, greener economy and they need our support just as we need theirs.

“We also call on employers, especially in our manufacturing sectors, to work with us and not take a damaging, short-term approach by laying off apprentices or cutting apprenticeship opportunities. We desperately need good jobs and to protect our skills base as we rebuild and recover from COVID-19, delivering the fairer, safer and greener economy we desperately need for any recovery to provide solid economic foundations in the years and decades ahead.”

Hajera Blagg

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