Apprenticeships: Round-up of recent developments on delivery, hiring bonus and redundancies
28 July 2020
Apprentices, employers, training providers and assessment organisations have experienced their fair share of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government’s Department for Education has continued to review the apprenticeships landscape since the early days of lockdown.
We take a look in this article at recent developments, including: updated Government guidance promoting the survival of apprenticeships through greater flexibility; the recent announcement of bonuses for businesses that hire apprentices; and what happens when an apprentice is made redundant.
The defining feature of an apprenticeship is learning, through a blend of work and off-the-job training. Both of these have proved challenging in a time where, on public safety grounds, we are encouraged to work remotely. While the Government still encourages use of distance-learning tools for apprenticeships, its recently updated apprenticeships guidance permits on-site delivery where this is done in accordance with return to work health and safety guidance.
Since mid-June, training providers have been permitted to offer some face-to-face contact for 16-18 years old apprentices, provided no more than 25% of those learners attend at any one time. From 13 July, providers have been permitted to allow 19+ years old apprentices to return to on-site training, provided this is done safely. Providers must ensure they limit the number of learners attending at any one time and control how they mix with other learners and staff.
End-point assessments (EPAs) should be carried out remotely if possible. But if that is not an option, apprentices can attend an assessment centre to complete their EPA, provided the centre meets health and safety requirements.
In addition, various apprenticeship standards have been temporarily modified in light of COVID-19 to ensure that EPAs can continue to take place, with alterations such as remote assessment or changes to the form of assessment. A list of varied standards has been published by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.
On 8 July, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a ‘brand new bonus’ support scheme for employers hiring new apprentices. Details have since been published in the Department for Education’s ‘Apprenticeship funding in England’ guidance.
Where an employer hires a new apprentice between 1 August 2020 and 31 January 2021, they will be eligible to make a claim for a bonus from 1 September 2020 through the apprenticeship service. The level of the bonus will depend on age. For apprentices aged 16-24, the payment will be £2,000; and for apprentices aged 25+, it will be £1,500. The payment will be made directly to the employer in two equal instalments, where the apprentice is still in learning at day 90 and day 365 – incentivising employers to continue the apprenticeship.
Employers can make claims in respect of multiple new apprentices, provided the apprentices meet the criteria. The bonus is on top of the existing payment of £1,000 which employers receive from the Government for new 16-18 years old apprentices (or 19-24 years old apprentices who have an Education, Health and Care plan).
The Government’s measures are clearly aimed at keeping apprenticeships going, although in these difficult economic times some redundancies are inevitable and this is acknowledged in the apprenticeships guidance.
Providers will be able to access funding to continue training redundant apprentices, in line with the funding rules. The Government will effectively step into the old employer’s shoes in covering costs of the price negotiated between the provider and the old employer. This will be for a maximum of 12 weeks where the apprentice has more than six months remaining of their apprenticeship, or for up to six months where the apprentice is within six months of their final day of training - unless the apprentice finds a new employer who can continue the apprenticeship (and assume the outstanding liabilities).
The Department for Work and Pensions has also advised that where an apprentice has been made redundant, but continues their apprenticeship studies, they are eligible for Universal Credit provided they meet the relevant criteria (typically for those aged 18+).
Employers should also remember that apprentices who are employees with at least 2 years’ continuous service are entitled to a statutory redundancy payment.
A Government support service for redundant apprentices is on the horizon, which will provide apprentices with advice on redundancy, highlight support services, and include an apprenticeship vacancy sharing service to point apprentices towards any new opportunities.