Appris predicts a record year for apprentice applications but warns of issues facing the Manufacturing Sector.

Member News
Despite the lockdown around the United Kingdom, and the ongoing debate about when places of education can open, Made in Yorkshire member Appris, and their Business Development Director, Dean Coleman-Walker are predicting a record year in terms of apprenticeship applications. Yet at the same time, the company also warns of the challenges facing the training sector.

The discussion began with an in-depth talk about how the company is approaching the current climate. Speaking to Dean, he explained that while many of their apprentices have been furloughed, banning them from direct work under the government laws, it does allow them to continue with the classroom-based education.

Speaking, Dean said, “There are several apprentices who have been furloughed at this moment in time. They can continue their learning, provided that it's not something that they are doing that's work-related. They can't be producing anything, and they can't be doing any projects which are part and parcel of the day to day working in an environment.”

For Appris, this had meant that there has been a big shift towards online learning. “For the past few weeks, we've been delivering through Microsoft Teams, which has been an essential tool like it is for many of the people and businesses out there. We've been delivering remote classrooms and that's been highly successful because we've been getting a high 95+ per cent attendance rate online,” said Dean.

But speaking to Dean, the ability to continue the learning of apprentices is vital as the Coronavirus could lead to a gap in the pipeline. Speaking Dean said “Manufacturing has a historically ageing workforce, and what’s happening now is that in the current climate those people may be swaying to retire early, reduce working hours or leave the industry because they don't want to return to work because of exposure measures or family needs, which is going to leave a gap. It's going to be substantial to UK industry, and we need to ensure that we keep that pipeline going.”

But how big of a threat is that potential gap? Speaking to Dean with a record year in 2019 for the number of starts, and 2020 that looked like it was on its way to beat the previous year, the issue may not be the number of applications that there are, but more so about the ability to secure a career in an uncertain and less stable industry.

Speaking, Dean said “To give you some sort of background, last year we had a record year in terms of apprenticeship starts and this year it looked like we are going to exceed that. So, in February, before the lockdown, we already had a hundred pledged positions available.”

Yet despite the ongoing Coronavirus situation, Dean also highlighted that the demand is there for apprentices, and in fact, only a very few had pulled the places they would offer. “Subsequently, since lockdown, we've only had a few businesses which have said they’re not going to take on this year because our order books have dwindled somewhat. Some companies have been reluctant and will maybe re-evaluate later in the year or early 2020, due to a number of other factors. We have had some cases where businesses have slightly increased their original intake.”

Look at the current situation, for Appris, the application process has completely changed. With face-to-face discussions a method no longer able to be used, everything has had to be replaced with digital platforms. Dean highlighted this in the case of Appris, saying, “We've interviewed over 200 people so far, including testing, screening and interviewing them by phone and Skype. Because of that, we've got 200, highly potential apprentices that are ready to go into positions because when this is over, companies will need to get going again. When the government begins to ease restrictions, you've got the ability now to supply a manufacturing industry with the skill they need.”

However, the big challenge facing education centres across the country is the ability to provide that ‘hands-on’ element that is vital for the completion of any Apprenticeship, and this remains the same for Appris. “Now, the thing is, at this point we’re coming towards the end of our academic year. There’s a lot of first-year apprentices who need core practical skills capable in the classrooms. Now whilst we can deal a lot with the technical and theoretical aspects that are part of the apprenticeship, it’s the practical skills that require augmenting.”

Dean went on to provide a specific example, “The engineering programs that we do at Level 3, those people might be learning over the full four-year period, and some of the first, second and third-year students are the ones that need the input. It’s essential then that we can provide them with the skills that they need to complete this year and then successfully move on to the next.”

However, despite this, the company is beginning to look towards a return to ‘normal’ conditions, with plans put in place, such as class sizes not exceeding ten people, seen as the first steps to ensure a safe return to classroom learning.

In terms of how this applies to the current outbreak, “If they can still learn remotely, we're going to deliver that way. It's simply the ones that need to complete the core practical skills to graduate at foundation levels that we will have to return to our training centre.”

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