COVID-19: why apprentices will be key to SME recovery

5 min read  |   22 January, 2021   By Nick Hardy

Two colleagues operating machinery in a factory

The business benefits of apprentices and apprenticeships

So many businesses have struggled throughout 2020 and there are clearly, challenging times ahead. SME investment in recruitment, learning and development has dipped as business leaders have had to focus on protecting and nurturing their revenue streams. Many companies have furloughed team members and others have had no other option but to make redundancies.

For many companies, recruitment plans are still on hold. Other businesses may be making plans for the future and thinking about recruiting people with the skills needed to help them grow again.

We believe that apprentices will be essential to SMEs and key to business and economic recovery - both now and in the future. In this post we discuss the business benefits of engaging with apprentices and providing support to a generation of younger workers, many of whom have faced incredibly tough circumstances over the last 12 months in a climate of growing unemployment.

Challenging times

Shaping business for the future

Five reasons why apprentices are great for business

National Apprenticeship Week 2021

Final thoughts

Challenging times

In November 2020 reported government statistics indicating that the number of people beginning apprenticeships was 322,500 (18 per cent) down from 2018/2019. Learner participation was 719,000 (3.2 per cent) down from 2018/19.

With so many businesses struggling to maintain and grow revenue streams and at a time when many companies have had to furlough staff or make redundancies, it’s no surprise that business leaders have had to shift focus from growth to survival mode. This has had an inevitable decline in recruitment, learning and development.

In practical terms, it’s also been hard to support apprenticeships in the workplace while the country has been in lockdown. Many apprentices have also been unable to attend colleges and other places of vocational learning while self-isolating.

While the government’s Kickstart Scheme announced last year temporarily helped blunt millennial unemployment levels by providing employers with incentives for taking on under-25s, many still face challenges the likes of which have never been seen by any other generation.

The Prince’s Trust recently published the results of a survey which revealed that one of four young people have felt ‘unable to cope’ during the pandemic.

For the time being, many companies may not be in a position to take on new people but business leaders will be well aware that their employees are the backbone of their organisations and making plans for recruitment to support recover and growth.

Shaping business for the future

With the announcement of the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, we now have a glimmer of hope and although the FSB is predicting ongoing tough times ahead, 2021 will hopefully also see the beginning of recovery and with this, renewed focus and investment in training, learning and development.

A well designed and supported apprenticeship programme is a clear and effective way to introduce and develop new talent into any business. At a time when businesses will need employees with new skills which can be utilised to help firms of every size come back stronger.

Five reasons why apprentices are great for business

At Breathe, investment in learning development is a key part of our company culture and we have direct experience of participating with apprenticeship programmes.

In fact, if you came across this article via social media or our online channels, that’s down to the work of our very own Ella Hammerton who joined us as an apprentice in 2019 and has since become a permanent and highly effective member of team Breathe.

Here are five reasons why we believe apprentices are so valuable to companies (including our own):

  1. Apprenticeships help develop skills directly linked to a business’ needs. From day one, an apprentice’s is as much on your business as it is on learning new skills at college or via distance learning.
  2. Developing apprenticeships is a cost-effective way to recruit and retain employees. Programmes are well-supported and many are co-funded.
  3. There is no upper age-limit and many apprentices succeed in achieving level 7 which is the equivalent to a master’s degree. The cost of recruiting a post-graduate from university can be much higher and they won’t necessarily have the same knowledge as an apprentice who has been trained by your team in-house.
  4. Apprentices are loyal to employers who invest in them. The skills, knowledge and insight and hands-on experience they gain add tremendous value.
  5. The work apprentices do can free up existing team members’ time, enabling them to focus on other projects. This will be especially important as we work towards coming back stronger after the current recession.

National Apprenticeship Week 2021

At the beginning of December 2020, the government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency announced ‘Build the Future’ as the theme for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) which takes place between the 8th and 14th February, 2021.

NAW 2021 is the 14th iteration of the annual week-long programme of events which promote the benefits of apprenticeships to young people joining the workforce as skilled employees, alongside the vital role they play in helping businesses and the economy.

In a press release announcing the theme for NAW 2021, the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, Gillian Keegan (herself a former apprentice) said:

“Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to learn while you earn, opening up new and exciting career paths that can transform lives. It’s been a tough year for everyone, but we want the theme for National Apprenticeship Week 2021 to be a springboard to look ahead to how apprenticeships can futureproof workforces and boost careers.

“The week is a great opportunity to highlight the huge range of apprenticeships on offer – from Space Engineer to Registered Nurse. There are currently around 7,000 apprenticeship opportunities available on the Find an Apprenticeship website which will benefit individuals, businesses and local communities. I encourage everyone to get involved and help make it a success.”

Final thoughts...

We’re well aware that renewed investment in recruitment, learning and development may seem a long way off for many businesses as they continue to weather the storm. However, we firmly believe that the younger generation of employees will be key to our efforts to move forward and that this will be the case for thousands of UK businesses.

Millennials and members of Generation Z have suffered badly in 2020. UK businesses will be key to helping support them and enable them to focus on their futures. In turn, businesses who invest in supporting younger workers will benefit from new employees who are loyal, ethusiastic and keen to work following such challenging times. 

recruitment blog cta


Author: Nick Hardy

Back to listing

Sign up to get the latest HR and people management insights straight to your inbox