The destruction of England’s apprenticeship system could be one of the many tragedies of the coronavirus pandemic if the government does not act urgently, Labour’s shadow FE and HE minister Emma Hardy has said.
The government’s lack of financial support for independent training providers (ITPs) is putting the training of tens of thousands of apprentices at risk, Ms Hardy told Tes.
She said: “If we let [the apprenticeship system] go, you will not see it recover in a matter of months. It is going to take years to build itself back to capacity. What opportunity are we giving people around the country if we allow those chances to be destroyed?
Ms Hardy added: “This government has claimed to be a champion for FE, they’ve said that they believe in apprenticeships. Well, when push comes to shove, they’ve been found lacking and where is the parity of esteem? Or is it that all along these were words and not deeds?”
Background: Apprenticeship provider demands over coronavirus
Need to know: Minister's letter to training providers
In the past few weeks, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers has stressed the urgent need for support beyond the guidance the Department for Education has so far provided to training providers.
A survey of AELP members, published on Wednesday, found that 55 per cent of training providers said they will likely have to downsize, and 17 per cent said they are likely to go bust altogether.
AELP chief executive Mark Dawe said that as each hour passed the consequences became more and more serious for training providers.
“In the middle of all this, providers are trying to do their best for their apprentices and learners with incredible online resources being poured into remote learning and assessment.
“Without financial support, it is the learners and employers who are going to suffer the most, especially in critical sectors such as social care where apprentices are so desperately needed.
"The radio silence from the government is deafening and it’s the uncertainty that leaves providers with no choice but to take measures to try and save their businesses which can mean fewer staff available to support learners.”
'No leadership whatsoever'
Ms Hardy said that the training of care and retail workers was now more crucial than ever. “We are going to need lots more care workers, we need to get them trained and up to speed very quickly, and the ITPs could play a huge role in this and provide that training. But they can’t, because they haven’t got the guaranteed funding.
“The education secretary has said "further education, further education, further education" – well, he seems to have forgotten about FE in this crisis. This government that committed itself to apprenticeships have shown no leadership whatsoever.
“For a government that talks about social mobility and social justice, where is the opportunities and justice for these learners? What is going to happen to them and who is going to provide their care and their training?
“What it appears to be is the government are content to sit and let the training providers go under and take with them all of the apprentices around the country.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The government is working tirelessly with colleges, universities and training providers to support them at this challenging time. We have published guidance for educational settings in response to the coronavirus and will continue to listen and support the sector.”