by Ajai Singh
Coronavirus has wreaked unprecedented devastation to the British economy: the UK economy has plunged into our deepest recession by 20%; 1.5 million more people have claimed jobless benefits; around 3 million people are still furloughed; household names such as Cineworld and Royal Mail are announcing industrial level job losses.
With the implementation of further local lockdowns through the Government’s tier system, many businesses are still in the dark about how they will survive- with many terrified that they will not be able to weather a second lockdown. Throughout August and September, national attention was placed on education.
The Government was forced to accept teacher assessed grades in GCSEs and A Levels after it was revealed that the algorithm used to moderate these grades was biased against students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as not being seen as a true reflection of students’ work. Around 2 million teacher assessments had been downgraded. To further inflame tensions, the Government had ordered a review into BTEC (skills-based qualifications) grades- the night before Results Day.
‘It was mayhem,’ Recalls Joan Scott, Assistant Principal at the Trafford College Group (which is a WorldSkills UK Centre of Excellence where they will implement international insights into outstanding teaching, learning and assessment for the benefit of students on skills based programmes such as apprenticeships).
Throughout the fiasco, much attention was placed upon the fact that many students had missed out on their favoured university places- with many unsure of which direction they will now go in. Joan Explains.
‘It was absolutely awful for our learners who had plans in place for their next steps but were now unsure of what was going to happen- they had university places; had booked halls of residence- it was mayhem.’
However, there has been a deafening silence in the national media about the effect it had on students who had applied for apprenticeships. Small Business Prices found that as a result of COVID 19, there was a 50% decrease in apprenticeships. This is largely as a result of the hit the job market has endured due to COVID with many businesses postponing and even cancelling apprenticeships altogether.
Noel Dunne, Director of Creative Alliance (a social enterprise that supports young people into apprenticeships in the creative industries) explains.
‘Even when people are making the commitment to hire apprentices the decision making time is taking much longer: employers are taking their time to firstly make sure the decision to take on apprentices is the right one and they are implementing incredibly rigorous recruitment processes to make sure of this.’
He mentions that the lack of clarity in moving forward for businesses is making them much more reluctant to take on apprentices.
Moreover, according to the Resolution Foundation, youth unemployment could hit 17% by late 2020.
However, as the Government begin implementing support for young people such as their £2 billion ‘Kickstart Jobs Scheme’ to support young people on Universal Credit, could a New Deal for apprenticeships on a wider basis be the way out?
Joan’s responsibilities at Trafford College cover apprenticeships and adult skills.
‘The current state of apprenticeships depends on the sector,’ She explains.
‘Apprenticeships in STEM subjects are strong and despite the hiatus in Construction in March, these apprenticeships are picking up. We are equipping our construction students with employability skills to be successful in what will be an incredibly competitive jobs market.’
However, the picture is not as positive in other sectors.
‘Hospitality and hair and beauty apprenticeships have been massively impacted,’ She says. ‘Unfortunately, when furlough ends, many apprentices will be left without a job.’
Value of apprenticeships
Apprenticeships in the UK are still seen as an alternative to academic study rather than as an option in their own right. However, Noel is optimistic about the rising status of apprenticeships.
‘There is certainly much greater awareness of the value of apprenticeships in the creative industries,’ He explains. ‘Five years ago, many employers would question the value of work-based learning in the sector- but the quality of talent coming through has demonstrated to many employers that they need to revisit their entry level recruitment policies (where the minimum criteria is often an undergraduate degree).’
‘Furthermore, I’d be concerned if I were a parent with a child at university who wasn’t getting any work-based learning experience. They are going to be significantly worse off in competing for entry level roles if they do not understand how to think of themselves as an employee and not as a student.’
Apprenticeships in the North West
The North West is a dynamic melting pot of industry: Salford’s Media City hosting major media outlets such as BBC and ITV; with Greater Manchester having one of the most diverse economies in the UK, (with specialisms in professional services, manufacturing and technological innovations as well as a vibrant cultural scene, to name a few); hundreds are employed at the PG Tips factory in Trafford Park; Amazon has two warehouses operating in Manchester with high many high paid and technical jobs needed.
Manufacturing output from the North West is worth around £28.5 billion to the UK and car companies such as Vauxhall and Jaguar Land Rover have car plants based in Ellesmere Port and Merseyside. This output is the largest by any area in the UK.
It is quite clear that in Greater Manchester and the North West, the opportunities and demands for apprenticeships are numerous. Indeed, in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, (which is made up of the Mayor Andy Burnham, his deputy mayors and council leaders) Leader of Oldham Council, Sean Fielding holds responsibility for skills. Indeed, in 2018, the Office for Students found that the greatest density for degree level apprentices was in the North West of England.
Joan goes into more detail about this.
‘With the growth in technology and the stability that comes with apprenticeships in health and education as well as Greater Manchester being so economically diverse, our work closely aligns with the Authority’s priorities in skills.’ She details. ‘We are working with the local boroughs in Greater Manchester to create recovery plans in making sure the way out of these challenges for young people is skills based.’
By these regional authorities and central government incentivising companies to take on young people (as well as encouraging young people into growth industries) we can train ourselves out of these economic crises.
Joan lists a plethora of support and opportunities for employers who are unsure about taking on apprentices at this precarious time.
‘Incentives such as the Apprenticeship Levy, the Kickstart programme are opportunities for companies to maximise this potential,’ She suggests. ‘The Government are also giving potential employers £1500 for each additional apprentice they take on.’
Whilst Joan accepts that there are incredibly difficult short-term challenges, she is optimistic that skills can lead employers and young people out of this crisis in the longer term.
By doing this, employers can play a unique role in reducing the youth unemployment rate, we can cultivate the next generation of creatives, engineers, and lawyers- to name a few.
It is inevitable that we will ‘get back to normal’ at some point- and we will need as many hands to the deck as possible.