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Why is no one talking about the effect of COVID-19 on apprentices?

Ben Hansford, MD - Apprenticeships, Firebrand
Canvas Grimsby In Article Block

#CoronaCrisis – The impact of COVID-19 on the UK’s education system is already astronomical, but a critical part of the ecosystem is being largely ignored by the media and governments alike: Apprenticeships.

Ben Hansford, who worked for the government’s Skills Funding Agency for just under a decade and now heads up apprenticeships at Firebrand Training, believes the government, organisations who hire apprentices and apprentices themselves need to take urgent action to ensure their education is disrupted as little as possible:

The coronavirus has hit the apprenticeship industry like a steam train. Hundreds of thousands of apprentices have been affected, even more so than university students, because the most important aspect of this form of education is that learners gain practical, real-world experience which is currently impossible. 

Not only are individuals suffering, but the sector’s long-term prognosis looks challenging as the institutions and businesses supporting apprenticeships are losing money and many will shut down. 

Apprenticeship providers and businesses where possible should offer virtual training and give apprentices the opportunity to frontload the theoretical parts of their course during this challenging time. They should be encouraged to attend relevant webinars to broaden their knowledge, catch up with their tutors and collate evidence ahead of their EPAs (end-point assessments).

But, if we have to work remotely for three to four months, this simply won’t be good enough because putting theory into practice is the key reason why apprenticeships are so effective, especially for some of the most critical STEM-based apprenticeships like engineering and cybersecurity.

The onus is of course on the government as it controls the pursestrings. It must release cash to support colleges and apprenticeship training providers, otherwise they will go under, leaving a massive, long-term gap in the Further Education ecosystem.

It must also flex funding rules around “length of stay” (which is the period an apprentice is supposed to complete their course in) by adding three months onto all active apprenticeships, paid for by the government so that individuals and organisations won’t be left out of pocket. 

While the present requires urgent action in order to deal with this crisis, we must not forget about the future or the long-term ramifications of COVID-19 on the workforce and wider economy could be extreme.

Ben Hansford, Managing Director – Apprenticeships, Firebrand

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