There could be around 120,000 fewer apprenticeship starts in the year from March 2020 as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, the chief executive of the Federation for Industry Sector Skills and Standards has said.
Speaking at the Westminster Education Forum on apprenticeship quality in England this morning, Matt Lambert said the drop in starts was “devastating”.
A paper published by his organisation in April states that it expects "significant disruption over the summer and a slightly reduced capacity from September onwards". "The cumulative effect of this in the 12 months from March 2020 to February 2021 will be 119,077 apprenticeship starts lost as a result of Covid-19," it says. "This represents a 30 per cent fall in numbers over the period and a substantial loss of opportunity for individuals and the economy."
Mr Lambert said young people had been particularly affected by the pandemic because they had a “limited opportunity to work from home compared to the wider market”.
“Online working is something that Britain can do very well – 43 per cent of jobs in Britain could be done online or from remote or home working, which is much higher than the European average," he said.
Coronavirus: The impact on apprenticeships
“The problem is when you look at young people, only about 8 per cent of that 16- to 24-year-old age group get the chance to work from home occasionally, compared to about 25 per cent of the workforce who do that. They have lower skills because they are younger and at the start of their careers, and that’s really a proxy for not doing very well in this current crisis.”
Mr Lambert said technology support for apprenticeships was a significant issue, and many young people only had access to a mobile phone at home. He suggested that the new scheme in which the government provides laptops for disadvantaged schoolchildren should be extended to apprentices.
Mr Lambert also called for a six-month delay in the ending of new apprenticeship starts on frameworks – although shortly after his comments, the ESFA announced there will be no new starts on apprenticeship frameworks from 31 July.
He also said that official guidance from the government on how to train apprenticeships while practising social distancing needed to be stronger. “One of the problems employers face is that they want to train people at a distance, but they can’t get the insurance because insurers aren’t convinced that government guidance is safe," Mr Lambert said.
“It is quite difficult to train at a distance – for example, how to use a chainsaw without being hands-on – but we do need to think about what else we could do, PPE [personal protective equipment] and so forth to improve the guidance.”