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Coronavirus: MPs call for apprentice ‘safety net’ as two-thirds lose out on work or learning

The number of people starting apprenticeships dropped by 7% in the first half of 2019/20 (PA)

2 min read

Senior MPs have demanded a “safety net” for apprentices as new research revealed that 61% have been furloughed, made redundant or lost access to learning due to the coronavirus crisis.

Labour branded the stats from The Sutton Trust “deeply concerning”, while Education Committee chairman Rob Halfon warned that many young people risked “falling off the skills ladder”.

A YouGov poll of 156 employers, analysed by the social mobility charity, found that 42% were not confident about the future of their apprentice programmes.

Among the companies surveyed, 36% of apprentices had been furloughed, eight percent have been made redundant and 17% have had their off-the-job learning suspended.

The report found that a quarter (24%) of places providing additional learning had been shut, while a further 16% had not been able to move classes online.

There was also 7% decline in the number of people starting apprenticeships in the first half of 2019/20, with some raising concerns that the current crisis could exacerbate that decline.

Mr Halfon, the Conservative chair of the Education Committee, told PoliticsHome that Covid-19 “meant that many apprentices are falling off the skills ladder of opportunity - and without even a safety net to fall back on”.

He said: “To put a rocket booster under apprentices, the Government should offer every young person an Apprenticeship Guarantee which means guaranteeing anyone from 16 to 25 an apprenticeship as long as they have the required qualifications,” he said.

“The Chancellor should consider implementing a skills tax credit for all small and medium-sized businesses to incentivise them to hire apprentices and give training providers a catch-up apprentice premium to help train those who have been left behind.”

The former minister also called for a new Skills Career Association to replace the Careers Enterprise Company, which he said would encourage more young people to consider skills-based learning.

Mr Halfon added: “Let's not miss this ladder of opportunity as we enter the aftermath of the worst of the Coronavirus.”

“To address Britain’s productivity crisis, the Government needs a joined-up approach to skills and apprenticeships in order to support the aspirations of the younger generation.”

Meanwhile, Labour’s Shadow Apprenticeships Minister Toby Perkins said the report’s findings were “deeply concerning” and showed “how precarious the apprenticeship sector is.

He said: “Apprenticeships are crucial as a tool for social mobility and in our country’s fight against the productivity deficit that we have compared to other nations. 

“The Government have failed to adhere to Cabinet Office guidance on supporting the industry, with colleges facing huge financial pressures."

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