Good news on apprentices, but beware unintended consequences

The chancellor’s support for apprenticeships is welcome, but there could mean more trouble further down the line, warns Kimberly Murphy of the Technical Apprenticeship Consortium (TAC).

TAC's Kimberly Murphy welcomes chancellor’s support for apprenticeships, but warns moves could mean more trouble further down the line.

Rishi Sunak’s summer economic update on 8 July 2020 made the headlines for plenty of reasons, but I was mostly struck by how the chancellor seems to understand the importance of apprenticeships for employers and the role they will have to play in providing opportunities for young people.

He backed up strong and confident words – “we know they work – 91% stay in work or go on to further training” – with significant investment. This includes a £2,000 grant to businesses for each young apprentice hired, and a £1,500 grant for apprentices aged 25 or above. Current apprentices weren’t forgotten either and able to access the £1,000 bonus for every employee who returns from furlough.

These are all great and positive steps, yet I was worried about unintended consequences. What happens once we have lost these incentives in January 2021? Previously it has encouraged employers to take on apprentices just to get the lump sum, with them quickly being cast aside once the scheme ends. Let’s hope that this doesn’t happen this time around and we’re not simply pushing the inevitable down the road.

Elsewhere, the £2bn kickstart scheme will be interesting. Although, again, I am worried about unintended consequences on the appeal of apprenticeships for the more short-sighted employers. This will give a £6,500 grant to employers who hire a young person currently on universal credit for a six-month work placement. Will this affect apprenticeship numbers? The government has since shared that they’re aimed at two different audiences and TAC will share some clarity from these in the next few weeks. 

You will already know about the CLC’s Construction Talent Retention Scheme - which will provide a free platform linking companies looking to hire and those looking for work. I look forward to working with stakeholders to make sure that apprentices are well-treated by the platform – either in being pointed to help elsewhere or on the portal itself. Given ACE’s instrumental role in its delivery, I am sure TAC will be a positive influence as the platform develops over the coming weeks and months.

The government has also recently launched the Redundancy Support Service for all sector apprentices at risk of redundancy. This is a welcome portal via the 'Find an Apprentice' vacancy system. This along with the Construction TRS portal gives our engineering apprentices, at risk, even more options to stay in the industry. 

TAC standards are connected to a qualification, as well as the apprenticeship, which means that any apprentices who are, unfortunately, made redundant with a part-completed qualification, can transfer this experience to a new position, perhaps through the CLC’s Construction Talent Retention Scheme. It is therefore TAC’s plan to mandate qualifications to our standards which will support our apprentices further in career progression and is in line with the views of the professional institutions.

I look forward to more clarity on all of the above over the coming weeks. One thing is for sure, we are facing a slowdown like no other before and there are some difficult choices coming up for employers to make. However, I was pleased to see Mark Naysmith, CEO of WSP in the UK, making a public pledge to invest in young and emerging talent. I hope that many more will take his words to heart and invest in the future of the industry through apprenticeships.

Kimberly Murphy is apprenticeship account manager at the Technical Apprenticeship Consortium (TAC).

If you would like to contact Rob O’Connor about this, or any other story, please email roconnor@infrastructure-intelligence.com.