How the Coronavirus is putting apprenticeship schemes at risk

National Apprenticeship Week sees governments and businesses alike encouraging people to get on board with new schemes, but the latest data paints a different picture.

Statistics from the Welsh Governments and Stats Wales show that more than 1,600 apprentices had been furloughed during the Coronavirus pandemic, the highest figure since October 2020. More worryingly, however, the completion rate of those on their apprenticeships had dropped to 24% from 32% the prior year.

This trend continues with the number of people taking up apprenticeships dropping from a peak of over 3,000 in the first quarter falling to just over 1,800 by the third quarter of 2020.

CJS News spoke to Ben Cottom, a spokesperson from the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales, to ask why we have been seeing this decline.

He said: “I think at the moment you have a very uncertain landscape for businesses which are protecting existing jobs.

“Many of those are being supported through the job retention scheme from the UK Government, but the uncertainty of the landscape means it is very difficult for businesses to expand in any way – it might be committing to investment into buildings or recruiting people.

“Businesses are waiting for economic recovery which is inhibiting their hiring intentions and inhibiting the opportunities they are able to give to apprentices.

“Unfortunately, the longer the lockdown goes on the longer those businesses are impacted and damaged and the longer it will take them to recover, but when we speak to businesses, they see the value in retaining that talent and maintaining the commitment to give those apprentices opportunities beyond COVID.”

However, for many apprentices the issue is not one to review following the pandemic and has been affecting their livelihoods now with over 3,300 apprentices being made redundant as a direct result of Covid, or for “other reasons”.

Ben Knight, a second-year carpentry apprentice with Y Prentis, raised concerns he initially had about losing his job.

He said: “I think the first lockdown where nobody knew what was going on and where everything was going, I thought it could have disappeared but with them [Yprentis], they make sure to ring you every week and make sure that you are okay. I’m more hopeful now.”

These concerns were shared by Suzy Davies MS, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Education, who was worried about the effect of the coronavirus, lockdowns, and job prospects.

She said: “The first issue is Covid-19. Apprenticeships do not work if you have got employers whose businesses are not open and one of the most worrying aspects is that those on apprentices’ schemes may not be ready to complete their qualifications because their employers have gone bust or are not in a position to offer them the final part of their training”

“We have had a large number of apprenticeships who went on furlough. The reasonable news that is that only one percent of apprentices have been laid off permanently, but I am worried that if the economy does not open up soon and businesses are not becoming more confident, we may see more of that.

“I’m quite keen on re-aligning apprenticeships so that those who thrive on them can see their way into higher education if they want to rather than getting into an employment situation which is not looking good and I wonder if people’s worries about the economy is putting potential apprentices off”