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How we should respond to our amazing apprentices through this difficult time whilst protecting ours and their future

Matt Tudor, Director of Business Development, Marketing & Digital Innovation. Bridgwater & Taunton College

Keeping #Talent Working 

These are my thoughts on how we should respond to our amazing apprentices through this difficult time whilst protecting ours and their future.

In all my 23 years in education – including teacher training, where the art of reflective practice was first embedded, the COVID-19 (CV-19) pandemic must surely rank as the most reflective period of all.

This is no doubt mainly due to the considerable reduction in physical ‘busyness’ (my commute to work is now three strides long), and in its place I find myself thinking about the challenges CV-19 is presenting to today’s young people in particular.

The impact of the lockdown on GCSE and A-Level results has been widely reported, but other age groups are suffering as well – for example, younger children who are leaving primary school this year and have had little or no opportunity to celebrate and say farewell to six happy years. And what about the nation’s apprentices – at Bridgwater & Taunton College we have almost 3,000 apprentices working across numerous industry sectors, in roles that vary from water workers with the Environment Agency and project controllers at Hinkley Point C, to healthcare workers on the frontline of the fight again COVID-19. 

What upheavals are they undergoing?

For many years an apprenticeship has presented young people with an opportunity to enter the workplace earlier than their peers; also, we are also now seeing young people of exceptional talent choosing an apprenticeship over the more traditional routes to academic success. While still wanting to further their career with advanced qualifications, they’re choosing to be an employee first and foremost.

However, as CV-19 sees businesses struggling, apprentices are facing employment challenges previously unseen – for example, before last month who had even heard of the word ‘furlough’, and yet the British Chamber of Commerce now states that ‘over 9 million UK employees are expected to be on furlough by the end of April’, costing the UK economy £30 – 40bn.

It’s easy to look at an apprentice and – in simple terms – view their contribution as less valuable because they’re in training and unqualified. It is much harder to see them as the talent of the future, yet this is what they are, and a failure to protect them now risks leading to an entire generation’s gap in workforce talent.

What can we do, I hear you ask?

The message is simple – communicate, communicate, communicate! My super talented Business Development team are contacting employers all day, every day, signposting the multiple support channels open to them, and highlighting the fact that if they need to furlough an apprentice, the apprentices can continue to learn as long as they are paid the national minimum wage. On the flip side, a number of the businesses we work with are on the frontline and so incredibly busy that they have to deploy apprentices away from their usual role. This is still learning, it is still the capture of new skills and behaviours, so there’s no need to pause their apprenticeship.  

Remember, we will recover from these times, and we cannot then wonder where all the talent has gone if we have failed to look after them through challenging circumstances.

I was recently privileged to hear Jonah Stillman talk about the so-called Gen Z at work. He clearly articulates that if a business is to be successful in harnessing the skills of Gen Z, then it must quickly understand their needs and respond. An integral part of this accordingly is understanding that they are digital natives who desire to belong, crave diversity and are ‘WeConomists’ who believe in a shared economy. 

So, bosses and company owners, please nurture your talent now in this time of crisis – because if you don’t do right by them, you can’t be surprised in the future if they choose to work elsewhere.

I am therefore launching support for a ‘campaign’ to underwrite wage cost for apprentices aged 16-19.

Matt Tudor, Director of Business Development, Marketing & Digital Innovation. Bridgwater & Taunton College.

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