Labour’s shadow FE minister Emma Hardy has urged employers to not make apprentices redundant following the coronavirus outbreak.
Her statement comes days after Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ (AELP), said that the organisation was receiving hourly reports from training providers about apprenticeships being stopped by employers, no new apprentices being taken on and existing apprentices being made redundant.
Ms Hardy told Tes: “The Labour Party is trying to work together with the Conservatives to find the best support for apprentices and training providers.
“Our message to training providers is clear: please do not make your apprentices redundant. Try and hold on until we get a clearer message from the government. Don’t make any quick decisions – we’ve seen the progress that the government has made, so wait until further announcements.”
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She added that the Labour Party has suggested to the government that there should be an equivalent to the job retention scheme for apprentices.
“Employers should be able to furlough apprentices for the immediate period of one month, paying 80 per cent of their wages and giving them time to complete off-the-job training. However, we would need to make sure that 80 per cent of the wage does not slip below the minimum wage barrier.”
Greater flexibility around assessment and funding
Earlier this week, the government published guidance for training providers alongside a letter to the sector from apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan.
The Department for Education said that the guidance would help employers and apprenticeship training and assessment providers “plan with more certainty through this difficult period of disruption”.
The government stressed it was encouraging training providers to deliver training to apprentices remotely and via e-learning as far as is practicable, but will also allow the modification of end-point assessment arrangements, “including remote assessments wherever practicable and possible.”
Ms Hardy said Labour had suggested greater flexibility. “We’re asking if testimonies from employers could be counted," she said. "For example, if an employer can testify that an apprentice can do X, Y and Z, could that be counted as evidence for assessments? We want apprentices to be able to continue to be registered as apprentices and complete off the job training.”
The AELP has repeatedly called for additional financial support for providers. In response to the guidance issued on Monday, chief executive Mark Dawe said: "We are left to conclude that the government is not serious about apprenticeship training or any other forms of skills training continuing while the pandemic goes on or that it is very happy to preside over many independent training providers (ITPs) going out of business over the next three months.”
Ms Hardy said that guaranteed funding levels would give training providers more security.
She said: “If the government could guarantee that levy-funded apprenticeship will continue in line with current funding levels given the likely decline in levy receipts in eight months ahead, that would give training providers more security.
“The problem is, if providers fold, that’s it for some apprentices. You will have potentially done a year or 18 months of training for what?
“The Labour party is doing everything we can to deal with the potential crisis in apprenticeships and encourage the government to send a clear message that apprentices should not be made redundant.”