17th Oct, 2021

'Emergency action plan needed to stem collapse in apprenticeship numbers,' says shadow West Midlands mayor

YOUNG apprentices across Coventry and the West Midlands have shared first-hand the positive differences they make, as regional MPs rally to increase apprenticeship numbers and cut red tape.

Labour’s Shadow Mayor for the West Midlands Liam Byrne has called on ministers to provide an urgent action plan to stem “the collapsing in numbers of apprenticeships” across the region.

New figures shared at the meeting, revealed the number of apprenticeships in the West Midlands fell by 40% between 2015/16 and 2019/20 before the Covid crisis started. Numbers are estimated to have fallen a further 31% since then across the region – slightly higher than national rates (27.6%).

Mr Byrne, who helped organise yesterday’s online roundtable at the start of National Apprenticeship Week 2021 (February 8 – 14), said: “We are the youngest region in Europe. We should therefore become the best place in Europe to be young. But right now, our young people feel they have had the rug pulled from under them, with the exam’s fiasco, huge cuts to youth services, and sky-high youth unemployment.

“Now we learn that apprenticeship numbers are collapsing just as employers are complaining about skills gaps, including in industries of the future like green technology. We cannot go on like this. Our young people are our future. We need to give them the tools they need to build that future.”

The roundtable included a group of young apprentices and their employers, the University of Birmingham Apprenticeship Co-ordinator Caleb Wright, which employs 73 apprentices, and Toby Perkins MP, Labour’s Shadow Further Education and Skills Minister.

Sharing their experiences were several young apprentices including Lucy Jones, who started a level 3 business admin apprentice with civil engineering company Richter in Birmingham last March, Jessica Chamber, who is doing a second apprenticeship in accountancy and Aidan Taggart, an accountancy apprentice who decided against university as he wanted to “get his foot in the door”.

Ellie Perkins, a Royal Academy of Culinary Arts chefs’ apprentice, told the discussion she feels lucky to continue working as her employers’ restaurant runs lockdown takeaways, but many other of her peers have been furloughed. Olivia Barfi, a business admin apprentice at the University of Birmingham said she has received “very good support” and felt it was “the best way to gain experience in the workplace and more of a direct route into a job”.

Other incentives for 16 to 24-year-olds taking up an apprenticeship include tailored support, earning while you learn, occupation specific qualifications and “saving up to £100,000 in university debt”, said Mr Byrne.

Last July Rishi Sunak’s Plan for Jobs scheme offered incentives of up to £2,000 for employers to take on a new apprentice, budgeting for 100,000 incentive payments. But new data shows 18,670 apprentices had been taken on under the scheme by January 8, 2021.

At the roundtable Caleb Wright said Birmingham University had found reading a 103-page form ahead of taking on an apprentice was “quite daunting” for many small medium sized businesses.

In response Labour is calling for a national wage subsidy to boost apprenticeships, while in the West Midlands, Mr Byrne has begun drawing up plans based on the Royal Academy of Engineering programme called Tomorrow’s Engineers.

It would: aim to improve careers services so that young people are aware of apprenticeships much earlier; ensure colleges have up-to-date equipment and technology training and cut red tape, like the 100-page forms employers face when trying to take on apprentices.

CASESTUDY: Chloe Furgusson, 19, from Stoke Green, Coventry, a Childcare apprentice at Coventry College 

“After leaving secondary school at 16 I felt I was left on my own without any support. I went to college to do hair and beauty but did not like it. I decided to volunteer for two weeks with a nursery and realised I was good at helping to look after children.

“Before going to Coventry College, I joined a different apprenticeship scheme but felt my coordinator did not support me, so I left halfway through.

“Coventry College has been great and helped me to set up my apprentice with a childminder. My apprenticeship is 18 months during which I work full-time 9am-6pm and am set college course work. Through the pandemic we have remained working. We have followed all the government’s coronavirus guidelines and show parents the social distancing measures we’re taking via Zoom.

“I’ve enjoyed the knowledge I’ve gained so far – particularly how to encourage children in different sensory activities and to make learning fun through play. You are learning, getting paid for something you enjoy and are being supported. I have regular phone calls and Teams meetings with my assessor to see how I’m getting with coursework. In the long-term I would like to be able to become a childminder.”

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