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What employers need to know about Degree Apprenticeships through the COVID-19 pandemic

By Richard Hopper, Business Development Manager, Northumbria University

Apprenticeship training programmes are a well-established way for organisations to develop their workforce and for individuals to achieve qualifications.

These specialist courses are co-designed with employers to ensure they are providing the skills that industry requires. The method of work-based learning has been imperative in bringing together theoretical knowledge with practical experience.

At the beginning of the last academic year, there were almost 800,000 apprentices across the UK. With the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown and economic crisis set to drive a shift in employment status for millions of UK workers, many apprentices and their employers will be left to grapple with the implications of their future.

At Northumbria university, we currently have over 1000 apprentices studying a range of courses at higher and degree level. The University’s dedicated apprenticeship team has been working closely with the Department for Education, Education Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and other regulatory bodies to keep abreast of the latest developments and policy changes, so we can ensure support for employers and students, and minimise business disruption through of the pandemic.

In this article, we have outlined some of the core causes for concern and clarity around points of policy at this time.

Managing increased workload

We are all getting used to working in a different way. For many – especially key workers – there has been increased demand on workload and potentially a reduced capacity for learning. When workload becomes too great, apprentices have previously had the opportunity to take a break in their programme, in order to concentrate on their day to day job. This guidance has now changed to offer employers and apprentices more flexibility during the pandemic. Where the break in learning is more than four weeks, the employer can temporarily withdraw their apprentice from programme to allow them to focus on other things. Training providers will then work with employers to find an appropriate return date. Since the 20% of allocated time for off the job training - a cornerstone of the apprenticeship scheme – is calculated across the period of the programme, students can make this up at a later time with minimal disruption to their studies.

Furloughed apprentices

Furlough, a word that’s use in daily English language has increased exponentially in the last month, has now been implemented by many organisations in the UK. This has already been considered by the ESFA. The good news is, even when on furlough and not acting in their usual job role, individual apprentices can continue on their programme.

Redundancies

As we are all aware, the economic impact of Covid-19 will be felt long after we return to traditional working practices. Some businesses may not survive this and unfortunately some apprentices will be made redundant. As training providers, it is our responsibility to support any apprentice who is made redundant during this time. If apprentice’s find employment within 12 weeks, they can continue their studies unaffected.

Funding

In March and April 2020, payments will still be taken from levy paying organisations and training providers are still drawing down funds from the Digital Apprenticeship Service (DAS) portal. Changes in the way SMEs obtain apprenticeship funding through the DAS portal are still being enacted. SMEs are also still being urged to register their accounts online. Funding can still be reserved from the end of June, three months before the start of their apprenticeship in September 2020.

The UK Government is continually implementing new support mechanisms for organisations to support business resilience and ensure business continuity. There may therefore be further changes in order to support employers with apprentices on learning programmes. The latest government information can be found on its dedicated apprenticeship information page.

Northumbria, like many training providers, has taken steps to ensure that learning can continue, even at this time of change. This has primarily been achieved through the adaptation of traditional face to face teaching on to online and digital platforms. Where face to face teaching and practical sessions are required, training providers have sought to re-schedule these sessions in order to maintain progress. For those that have entered their end point assessment period, there may also be a need to reschedule this process, which is permitted.

We would hope that the majority, if not all, of apprentices can continue to engage in learning so their apprenticeships can be completed as planned. Northumbria is also commencing new cohorts on apprenticeship programmes in September 2020.

If any organisation has questions about its current, or potential apprentices on programme at Northumbria, there is more information available via our FAQs.

By Richard Hopper, Business Development Manager, Northumbria University


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