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Concern over future of apprentice recruits

07 August 2020

There was considerable conversation at last week’s LTT online discussion about the situation of those who are on the transport apprenticeship schemes – their prospects, and the effect that pandemic pressures have had upon the sector’s appetite to nurture new talent. 

Paul Firmin from the Transport Planning Technician Apprenticeship project at Leeds College of Building reported that, prior to the pandemic lockdown, they had 43 Apprenticeship places for new/young transport planners on the Diploma course for next year. So far, post lockdown, he’d heard that only two of those places had been confirmed. “This is really serious, particularly for young professionals entering the industry.”

Two issues were affecting apprenticeships. One was retention of existing apprentices, and the other a pause on new recruitment – the pause will impact this year with reduced numbers; those already on the programme are still there and continuing their training even while on furlough, though maybe unsure of their support.

Tom van Vuren wondered if the absence of applicants was due to sponsors not taking on apprenticeships, and what drove that drop. Had people lost confidence in transport planning as a career, or were employers being tight with cash?

Caroline Sudworth, who provides specialist support to the Transport Apprentice Consortium (TAC), said that it would be difficult for employers to ‘on board’ (train up) any new staff at the moment with furloughs and home-working – and apprentices were no different. Recruitment freezes in many organisations meant the focus was on “existing apprentices already part-way through their apprenticeship”. She felt this was happening across the board in all roles.

Said Firmin: “It’s very sad to see young apprentices that I taught and trained in the past three years lose their careers and face unemployment. But it’s a fact of the Covid effect and the full impact has probably still not yet hit us until furlough is removed. We have upskilled at the College to prepare for online tuition, but if we don't have students then that will be to no avail!

“More positively – I think there is lots of scope for re-training, or booster training, or attending short courses and Continuous Professional Development  training during this downtime,” he added. It meant the chance to learn a transport planning transferable skill whilst on furlough or if made redundant. “Use time wisely for when things pick up (hopefully)! I have been supporting my apprentices with this advice.”

Caroline Sudworth provided a link about the apprenticeship scheme: bit.ly/31sUY53 saying that employers taking on a new apprentice between now and January could get between £1,500-£2,000 of funding to support them under the Chancellor’s recently announced scheme to help the employment of young people.

She also added that there was a ‘talent retention scheme; open for the construction sector (bit.ly/3icAJit) and something similar also coming forward for transport planning. “We should advertise this to both people losing jobs, but to employers/local authorities to recruit from the existing pool,” she urged.

Jo Thornton said Buckinghamshire had found the Leeds course very effective, and would highly recommend it. She had two apprentices currently on that programme. She said that home working during Covid presented challenges for bringing new people into the organisation, particularly the young.   “Junior members of the team don't have the same professional network and are losing the conversation that goes on within the office environment. So those times when complex situations are discussed, and provide that crucial learning to those within hearing distance. So it’s going to be very difficult to replicate this learning experience in a digital world.” 

Paul Firmin said that the apprenticeships had opened up a possible career for school leavers and mid-career changers, and Caroline Sudworth said the new Aston Degree level apprenticeship now allowed a second route into transport planning for those already qualified at level 3. 

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