Recent announcements on the fall in apprenticeship starts during the pandemic will come as no surprise given the unique circumstances with a fall of 60% in May, with greater proportions of level 2 – 74%, and starts for young people being particularity adversely affected.  However this is on the back of the wider decline in starts since the introduction of the reforms.  The Government argues that are now only funding “high quality” apprenticeships – where is the evidence for this, if they mean higher apprenticeships, this mistakes level for quality, if they mean the growth in starts of standards – how can we objectively say that quality has improved across the piste?

At the end of July starts for Frameworks have been turned off, so all future starts must be for standards, this was as IFATE stated well trailed, but given the impact of the pandemic could conceivably have been delayed.  The reported impact has been a mini surge to register starts for apprenticeships where no equivalent standard is available, but the longer term impact for example of not replacing popular and in demand apprenticeships such as level 2 Business Admin is unclear.

More widely, the Government have increased incentives for employers to take new apprenticeships. In the short term this seems to have delayed some starts with employers understandably waiting for the new incentives to be available.  We are entering a critical period, where usually in the August to October the maximum numbers of starts are recorded.  It is sincerely hoped employers feel able to commit to support particularity the young people who will be seeking opportunities to commence their careers.  The focus of the new incentives is rightly to support those outside the workplace, but it is hoped this is sufficient to gain the support of employers.

Likewise the furlough scheme is winding down, it will be critical that as learners come off furlough the maximum are retained or in the worst case can be found transfers.  The Government have offered a retention bonus, but could this have been better targeted where there is higher risk?

It is good to see the increased priority placed in Traineeships (a very overlooked programme in recent times) that can be a very effective social mobility vehicle to get young people apprenticeship/work ready.  It will be vital that with the additional programmes available such as Kickstart, people needing help and employers get good advice in terms of which is the best option for them and that the programmes align well and complement each other (which between ESFA and DWP rules and requirements has not always been the case).  For example transitioning from Kickstart to apprenticeships, we need to ensure the learner and employer receive the best support to maintain employment and opportunities to develop skills for the immediate and longer term, so there needs to be a seamless process to incentivise retention.

For employers, training providers and learners, this will be a period of growing need against a challenging economic backdrop, we all need to work closely with Government agencies to mitigate the impacts and help develop employment and the skills required for the future.  Further the stability of the skills provider sector is critical at this time so being able to work with funding partners to maintain quality provision is crucial.  The next few month are feel like a tipping point both for employment and the sector to be able  support the growing needs.