The number of people starting apprenticeships fell by almost half over the past year, according to a new study timed to coincide with the 14th annual National Apprenticeship Week (8–14 February).
Small Business Prices found that the effect of COVID-19 on apprenticeships had been most keenly felt in the service sector, where starts were down by 76%. Hospitality and catering were similarly impacted, with a reduction of 70% on the previous year.
Even the smallest sector falls were significant, with apprenticeship starts in information and communications technology falling by 38%, and business management down by 40%.
“Initial data released in July 2020 showed that apprenticeship starts had decreased by 50% compared with last year, but the final data set for 2020 showed a slightly less daunting figure at 46%,” said Ian Wright, founder of Small Business Prices.
“Despite the small uplift in apprenticeship starts, it is clear that the education landscape has been hit hard by COVID-19, with students now relying on virtual lessons and an on-screen relationship with teachers.”
“Even during the pandemic, apprenticeships are an amazing opportunity for so many young people for whom going to university isn’t the right choice” – Ian Wright, Small Business Prices
The figures form part of a wider study detailing the best industries for apprentices in the UK. Health and social care saw both the most apprenticeships started (43,399) and completed (17,061) in 2019-20, although its average salary was barely half that of direct learning support, with a sector-leading £27,669.
Engineering was rated as the best industry overall, thanks to both a relatively large number of starts (21,789) and high average salary (£21,427).
As the authors of the study were keen to point out, the figures form only part of a larger picture. For instance, although apprenticeships in animal and veterinary science recorded the lowest average salary (£8,476), the earning potential in the sector can be as high as £70,000.
“Even during the pandemic, apprenticeships are an amazing opportunity for so many young people for whom going to university isn’t the right choice,” added Wright.
“It’s vital that younger generations should not have to suffer because of this. Companies will need support and guidance, both financially and with regards to best practice, to encourage young people to take up apprenticeships again, even while the pandemic situation remains uncertain.”
His words were echoed by Steve Leakey, managing director of South East construction company, Higgins Partnerships.
“Apprentices are a valuable part of our business and many of us, including myself, have undertaken an apprenticeship throughout our career progression,” said Leakey.
“Training and developing our team is a fundamental part of what we do, and through our apprenticeship roles we are able to bring in early talent and progress them through the organisation allowing them to develop a proper career.”
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Among those taken on by Higgins Partnerships in the last year is Islington resident, Kamal (pictured above), who is working on the company’s Telfer House project alongside his studies at London South Bank University.
“It has really helped that some of the team used to be apprentices, so they understand how to help me with my development,” he said.
“Working alongside the site manager has allowed me to get a better understanding of my role and I am more comfortable at doing my job effectively because of the training I have received on site.”