From education to employment

Up to three-fifths of apprentices have lost out on work or learning as a result of the pandemic

Sir Peter Lampl, Sutton Trust

New @SuttonTrust research examines impact of #Coronavirus on Apprenticeships 


  • Employers surveyed say that up to two-thirds (60%) of their apprentices have lost out on work experience or learning.
  • The decline in new apprenticeships likely to be exacerbated.
  • Separate research finds it is well-off, older students who have benefited from the growth in degree apprenticeships.

The current health crisis is having a significant effect on apprenticeships, according to the latest in a series of coronavirus impact briefs from the Sutton Trust. The research finds that companies are furloughing or making apprenticeships redundant, off the job learning has been disrupted, and apprentices, already on low pay, have faced additional cuts. 

YouGov polling of 156 employers that offered apprenticeships before the coronavirus outbreak, finds that up to three-fifths (61%) say their apprentices have lost out on work or learning following the crisis. 36% have been furloughed, 8% made redundant and 17% have had their off-the-job learning suspended.

A quarter (24%) of the employers who offered apprenticeships said their apprentices’ learning provider had closed and a smaller proportion (16%) reported that their provider had been unable to continue provision online.

While over half (58%) of employers surveyed were confident that all of their apprentices would return to their course once restrictions are relaxed, today’s research raises serious concerns for the future of apprenticeships.

The number of people starting apprenticeships dropped by 7% in the first half of 2019/20. This decline is expected to be exacerbated as a direct result of the crisis. Employers’ focus will be on recovering from the economic consequences of the pandemic and hiring and training new apprentices will not be a priority. This will mean fewer vacancies available, and more competition for fewer opportunities.

Today’s polling comes alongside a new report by the Sutton Trust on degree apprenticeships and social mobility. Degree apprenticeships were introduced in 2015 with the promise of offering young people an alternative to a traditional university degree. They offer a powerful combination of academic learning and on-the-job training, giving young people the opportunity to ‘earn while you learn’, graduate with little or no debt and with skills the marketplace wants.

The number of degree apprenticeships has grown rapidly, from 756 in 2015/16 to 13,587 in 2018/19. Since 2017, there has also been a big rise in other degree-level apprenticeships, award qualifications equivalent to a degree but not from a university, from just 19 four years ago, to 8,892 last year.

However, today’s report finds that much of this growth has not benefitted young people, with more than half of degree apprenticeships taken up by people over 30. Senior leadership courses – equivalent to an MBA – have expanded significantly, growing six-fold from 552 to 3,410 in 2018/19, but the proportion of young apprentices from deprived communities taking degree level apprenticeships up has fallen (from 9% in 2016 to 6% last year).

At the same time the number of older apprentices from well-off areas has more than doubled (from 5% to 11%), leading to a growing access gap for those under 25. Senior leadership and chartered management courses alone now make up almost half (46%) of the entire degree apprentice cohort as employers look to put their senior staff through these courses rather than train younger, less affluent employees.

The Trust is making a series of recommendations to ensure that apprenticeships deliver social mobility opportunities for young people:

  • At a time of economic downturn and limited resources, apprenticeship levy funding should not be spent subsidising senior executives taking MBA-style qualifications, but should instead be focused on providing new opportunities for young people facing a challenging labour market.
  • The priority for current apprentices should be to continue training where possible, even when on furlough or if redeployed within a company.
  • In order for apprenticeships to deliver on the social mobility agenda as we come out of the coronavirus crisis, social mobility and widening opportunity should be an explicit criterion in the government’s review of the apprenticeships levy.

The Trust is launching its first ever apprenticeships summer school modeled after its highly successful university summer schools to widen access to degree and degree-level apprenticeships. Applications for the programme – which will be online this year but face-to-face in the future – are open now.

Sector Response

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said:

“The coronavirus crisis has already had a serious impact on apprentices, with 61% being made redundant or furloughed, or unable to access their learning.

“The priority for current apprentices should be to continue their training where possible and the government must do more to support training providers. In the long-term, apprenticeships have a crucial role to deliver on the government’s social mobility agenda which will be especially important as we come out of the pandemic.

“Degree apprenticeships were introduced in 2015 with the promise of offering young people an alternative to traditional degrees. They offer a powerful combination of on the job learning and academic work, enabling young people to graduate with little or no debt and with the skills the marketplace wants.

“The Trust is also launching its first-ever apprenticeship summer school, modelled after its highly successful university summer schools to widen access to degree apprenticeships.”

Robert Halfon May2020 100x100Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

“The coronavirus crisis has meant that many apprentices are falling off the skills ladder of opportunity, without even a safety net to fall back on. We must now rebuild our apprenticeships and skills nation and put a rocket boost under apprenticeships.

“The Government should guarantee an apprenticeship to every 16 to 25 year old as long as they have the required qualifications. The Chancellor should also consider implementing a skills tax credit for SMEs to incentivise the hiring of apprentices and give training providers a catch-up apprentice premium to help train those who have been left behind.

“The legal duty for schools to offer career advice on apprenticeships should be strengthened with a new Skills Career Association to replace the Careers & Enterprise Company, with a UCAS for further education and apprenticeships.

“It is also deeply worrying that despite the growth in degree apprenticeships, too many people from disadvantaged backgrounds are still being locked out of one of the best routes to a prosperous future.

“Pupils should be guaranteed advice on apprenticeships including degree apprenticeships and there must be a target that 50% of students going to university should be studying degree apprenticeships. Universities access to funding should be dependent on encouraging and fully participating in degree apprenticeships.

“Now more than ever the Government and higher education providers must do everything possible to tear down the barriers to degree apprenticeships and the IFATE cobwebs of bureaucracy must be blown away in order to move both quickly and decisively to support our more disadvantaged learners.”

Toby Perkins 100x100Toby Perkins MP, Labour’s Shadow Apprenticeships Minister, 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. This research demonstrates how precarious the apprenticeship sector is and the anticipated fall in new starts is deeply concerning.

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

“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.”

MarkDawe 100x100Mark Dawe, Chief Executive, Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said:

“This independent report should make for very sober reading within government.  It confirms that the education department appears to be operating in a parallel universe to the rest of us in not recognising how serious the problem is, especially the prospects for young people.”

On 37% of employers saying apprentices not able to work from home, Mark said:

“The report reminds ministers starkly that apprenticeships are work based learning programmes where their value lies in learning on the job and that only so much can be learned remotely at home.

“Training providers are the government’s salesforce for selling apprenticeships to employers and they need to be at maximum capacity as we emerge from this crisis.  Therefore the Sutton Trust is absolutely right to place at the top of its recommendations that the Cabinet Office covid-19 supplier relief scheme should apply to all apprenticeships and not just the third covered so far.

“AELP calls for extended learning periods and funding for current apprentices.  Proper support needs to be in place for apprentices made redundant and we welcome the Sutton Trust’s comments on the need to look at the 12-week support rule.  Finally the DfE and DWP should work together with providers to enable sustained support for unemployed people whether it is though apprenticeships, traineeships and adult skills programmes.” 

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers’ (AELP) recent survey has also found a crash in new apprenticeships starts and limited government support for apprenticeship training providers, despite the existence of Cabinet Office guidelines which suggest that the Department for Education should be doing much more.

Related Articles