As lockdown continues and we all push on with our self-imposed isolation, there continues to be more questions than answers. These can be anything from, how catastrophic will the post Covid-19 economic fallout be, through to, when will there be live sport again?
Unfortunately, apprenticeships are currently suffering the same lack of clarity. We have seen many changes in a matter of weeks, and it has been impressive to see the sector has adapted to a whole new way of working. Now the question is, where will apprenticeship be when we get back to a semblance of standard delivery, how will COVID-19 affect apprenticeships in the long run?
Time will tell, but what have we seen so far that could give us a peek into the future of apprenticeship landscape?
Apprenticeships are innovating
A big positive that is likely to come from this situation is the increased adoption of technology. We reported in March how Just IT had moved successfully to remote delivery, as apprenticeship providers who have online platforms in place to support learners remotely are finding the transition smoother.
Like many providers, we have initially seen that we can engage learners and employers far more effectively and efficiently remotely than we originally anticipated. This means, across the sector, we could see apprenticeship providers and employers adopting more online tech and innovations within their processes.
This situation has shone a light on e-learning, and hopefully, more providers will use tech to support their delivery in the future.
Reduced Number of Starts
This was predictable, but still quite shocking for providers to see, during April, a month into the pandemic, providers reported an 80% reduction in apprenticeship starts. The focus of employers is on surviving the lockdown and having the right strategy to rebuild after COVID-19. We are likely to see a decrease in apprenticeship starts across many sectors in the short term.
This impact, however, is not the full story – many leading companies are committed to apprenticeships as a crucial part of their hiring and development strategy. As there is more clarity on actions for post lockdown, they will start turning their attention to skills development plans to support the future of their business. Although new starts are down, many apprentices and employers are seeing increased learner engagement during the lockdown. Apprentices have embraced taking control of their learning, tracking their progress and receiving support and assignments from their coaches remotely.
Remote delivery and working from home
This situation has shone a light on e-learning (used above), online communication platforms and the whole suite of tools available to companies to work remotely. We discussed how to get the best out of remote working when the pandemic began, and it seems many employers across the UK are genuinely buying into remote working.
For apprenticeships, we have seen the majority of employers we work with continue their learners on programme remotely. As many of the programmes we run are IT and digital qualifications, our trainers, coaches and curriculum leads have designed an online approach that has received very strong feedback. Learning has continued in virtual classrooms and progress monitored through bespoke online delivery platforms.
The result of remote learning successes may mean that in a post-Covid-19 world, we may see a hybrid approach to apprenticeship delivery. This could be especially true in tech and higher-level apprenticeships, where providers and employers would be utilising many of the remote access tools currently being used and blending them with office and face-to-face when it is required.
Government support through furlough
The government has supported employers through the introduction of the furlough scheme, and it was good to see this extended to apprenticeships too.
Apprentices who are furloughed will have a pause in their in-work activity but, government guidance to apprentices on furlough, suggests that they can continue to study on their apprenticeship programme. Some will use this opportunity to catch up on learning they may have fallen behind on. Apprentices can find the working and learning balance tricky at times, so some may feel grateful for the time to focus on the learning element of their programme.
We are also seeing furlough being used by apprentices as an opportunity to complete their EPA (end point assessment). The awarding body organisations have adapted their procedures and can deliver exams and assessment online.
We are in a once in a generation situation and the future will have challenges. As yet it’s unclear what the long-term impact will be on apprenticeships. Still, there is plenty of optimism that apprentices are a key talent acquisition strategy for companies that are looking for different types of people, diversity, new thinking, and supporting local talent. Providers and employers are increasingly putting in place robust systems that support apprentices and investing for the future.