Apprentice employers have learned from the first lockdown, and are working hard to manage the second one, according to an interview with Jennifer Coupland, the Chief Executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IATE).
Ms Coupland acknowledges the difficulties faced by employers and apprentices, and offers reassurance that the institute is doing everything in its power to support them, whilst prioritising safety. The major difference of the second lockdown is that colleges, training providers and assessment organisations can keep operating.
Despite the less stringent lockdown measures, remote rather than face-to-face assessments will be extended until the end of March. The government has acknowledged that apprenticeships will play an important role in the economic recovery, and has put together a comprehensive support package with the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA).
As part of the package, the chancellor has announced new apprenticeship employer incentives. Between August 2020 and 31st January 2021, businesses will receive a bonus of £2000 for every 16 to 24 year-old apprentice they take on, and £1,500 for a 25 year-old.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson is keen to reduce youth unemployment, and ensure that people of all backgrounds receive the education and training they need. He has also promised to guarantee an apprenticeship for every young person once the coronavirus pandemic is over.
To meet the eligibility criteria for the bonus, the employer must not have employed the apprentice within six months prior to the contract start date. There is no limit to the number of apprentices that can be taken on by a single business or organisation; they will all be eligible for the payment.
The payments will be made directly to employers in two equal instalments, on day 90 of the apprenticeship and on day 365 (provided the apprentice is still in learning). The current £1000 payment to the employer for taking on a 16 to 18 year-old remains in place. The new payment will need to be claimed by the employer via the online apprenticeship system.
The IATE has recently published a report which is based on a survey of 340 apprentice employers and other organisations. The findings, based on the situation in September this year, indicate that just 8% of employers have made apprentices redundant because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Furthermore, 57% of employers indicated that they planned to recruit new apprentices over the next year, and only 14% said they did not, with the remaining 29% being unsure. 78% of respondents also said that their apprentices were continuing with off-the-job training. This positive data suggests the government intervention has been broadly successful.
Of course, the success is also down to the hard work and efforts of employers and apprentices themselves, who have had to innovate and adjust their working methods. Despite the further difficulties of a second lockdown, especially for high street businesses, they appear to have remained positive and committed.
Ms Coupland emphasises how important it is that learners can continue their off-the-job training during lockdown, meeting the requirement for apprentices to spend at least 20% of their working time out of the workplace. She believes this has been a key driver in the improved quality of apprenticeships.