Almost a third of companies and tradespeople who regularly hire apprentices feel that the program has been made harder due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as new ONS figures show a 30% drop in new construction apprentices between August and October 2020 compared to the same period the previous year.
Demonstrating the effect of COVID-19 on the scheme, more than one in five companies that usually hire apprentices took on fewer in 2020, despite a fifth of tradespeople believing that the program is more important now than ever.
Commissioned by IronmongeryDirect in the run up to this week’s National Apprenticeship Week (8th to 14th February), the study also reveals that 8% of tradespeople believe that the government has not done enough to support apprentices throughout the pandemic.
Looking at the year ahead, the positive news is that 23% of businesses and tradespeople plan to bring on apprentices in 2021.
Men in the industry are more likely than women to think that an apprenticeship is a great way for people to learn skills (31% vs 23%). Contrastingly, however, it is tradeswomen and female-led companies that are most likely to be looking for an apprentice in the year ahead, with a quarter of women planning to hire a trainee compared to only one in five tradesmen.
According to the Office of National Statistics, female apprentices in construction are also on the rise, increasing by 19% in the 2019/20 academic year compared to the previous 12 months. This represents a much larger trend in growth as there are 333% more female construction trainees than in 2014/15. So far in the 2020/21 academic year, the percentage of female new starters has increased to 9%, suggesting that this growth is set to continue.
The statistics also reveal a changing story for apprentices of colour. While BAME apprentices made up only 6% of new construction apprentices in 2019/20, this represents a 16% increase to the previous year and an 82% rise since 2014/15. What’s more, despite the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic, the proportion of BAME trainees continues to grow as they make up 8% of new starters so far this academic year.
The proportion of new apprentices with learning difficulties is also on the increase, making up 14% of the 2019/20 intake. This is a 53% increase from 2014/15. This trend seems set to continue as 16% of the 2020/21 year’s new starters so far have learning difficulties.
Commenting on the research, Marco Verdonkschot, Managing Director at IronmongeryDirect, said: “It’s great to see many tradespeople and companies are still looking to make use of the apprenticeship program, despite the difficulty of the past year.
“We think the apprenticeship scheme is an amazing way to help shape the next generation of tradespeople. That’s why we’ve launched a competition for a UK-based tradesperson or company to win £5,000 towards funding an apprentice.
“There are so many people who do amazing work in the industry today who started out as apprentices, so it’s important that the program continues to be well-funded. More needs to be done to support apprentices throughout this pandemic to ensure that we continue to have great talent in the future, and we wanted to do our bit to help!”
To enter the competition or learn more about the research, click here