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Sector news during Covid-19 – PM Boris Johnson “guarantees” an apprenticeship for every young person

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This week we take a look at government plans for economic recovery after the easing of the lockdown, where skills feature high on the agenda.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has said that every young person affected by the coronavirus pandemic should be guaranteed an apprenticeship place. He also said there would be “many, many job losses”.

However, Johnson offered no details about that guarantee, an idea initially proposed by Lord Halfon, the education select committee chair.

Labour’s shadow apprenticeship minister Toby Perkins, said in FE Week that the statement was a ‘deception’ because the apprenticeship offer from the government would only fund the learning, not the wages. Perkins said:

“…we all know the most expensive part of employing an apprentice is paying their wages, and if the government aren’t offering to do that then this no way constitutes a ‘guarantee’.”

He argued that the government should not “use words like ‘guarantee’ unless they genuinely are guaranteeing that young people will have an apprenticeship.”

Although the Department for Education clarified they are looking into ways to support businesses to take on apprenticeships, they stopped short of using the term guarantee. However, the government is stepping up its efforts to reform skills delivery.

Why now?

The combined impact of the coronavirus and the upcoming substantive exit from the EU – we don’t know the terms of leaving yet – means that urgent action is needed on the economy. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has announced the creation of five new ‘recovery roundtables’ aimed at finding ways to reinvigorate the economy.

It is not a moment too soon.

Analysis of data from vacancies funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and published by the Institute of Employment Studies showed a further fall in vacancies this week. The current stock of vacancies, the report says, is 60% lower than at the start of the pandemic and 65% lower than the same period in 2019. Healthcare and nursing roles make up one in five of the available vacancies. Hospitality and catering, administration, consultancy, and HR/recruitment show the most significant drops.

The recovery roundtables will include business leaders and academics. They will look at the green economy, new business, attracting investment to the UK and skills and apprenticeships.

Alok Sharma, BEIS business secretary, said:

“The output from this initiative will feed directly into the government’s work on economic recovery and will help deliver the commitments we made to the British people only last December, which now take on an even greater sense of urgency and importance.”

Pundits believe that these roundtables will feed into a July 6th speech by the PM, where he will announce major policy changes.

The skills gap has long been an issue in the UK, affecting economic growth and productivity, and it is something we have written about consistently across these pages. Organisations such as the Education and Training Foundation have also highlighted the digital skills gap, where the absence of digital skills is holding back businesses, education, and the regions.

If major action is being planned in July by the government, this is to be wholeheartedly welcomed. We do not have a government known for its big thinking, particularly when it comes to state spending. Nor has it shown itself to be predisposed to working with business leaders and academic experts.

However, the government’s experience with the coronavirus may have taught it that it has no choice but to spend and – since it has worked closely with scientists and medical experts throughout the pandemic – reach out to experts.

A statement of intent? We will know more in July.

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