The volume of apprentices who require more training due to Covid-19 interruptions is starting to “spiral steeply”, providers have warned as they make a fresh plea for extra financial support.

In a new submission to the Department for Education, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers has today called on the government to extend funded training for apprentices by three months to support a “catch-up period”.

The membership organisation, which is holding a virtual conference on business recovery from the coronavirus pandemic today and tomorrow, states that a “significant cohort” of apprentices have made slower progress than originally planned during lockdown because remote learning is “not always as effective as face-to-face” and assessments have been delayed.

As a result, a “growing number” of apprentices who were due to finish in the summer are moving past their planned end dates, becoming “unfunded” and require more than planned training.

The AELP said “many providers” have told them that the volume of apprentices out of funding is starting to “spiral steeply”.

The association believes the solution is an injection of “additional catch-up funding to support the extension to apprentices’ programmes by up to three months, with additional funding needed to cover this period of additional catch-up training”.

AELP chief policy officer Simon Ashworth told FE Week it would be “too messy” to provide the extra funding on a per apprentice basis, and instead “something sensible and pragmatic to support all those apprentices in the cohort who have had their learning disrupted” would be needed.

He added that the three-month request is based on the impact in April, May and June specifically before lockdown was eased, but recognised some apprentices might need more while some will need less.

AELP managing director Jane Hickie said: “We hear stories of training providers doing everything they can to support apprentices even when the government funding has been switched off, but the government must step in now with more support to ensure no apprentice is unfairly disadvantaged.”

The association’s Covid recovery package for skills points out that there have been “no specific measures” put in place to protect apprentices from the threat of redundancy when the furlough scheme ends.

To reduce the number of apprentices becoming unemployed, the AELP has called on government to “introduce a new wage subsidy for young apprentices aged 16 to 24 targeted specifically at those who have been on furlough and are returning to their programmes”.

Employed adult learners who are also “at risk” of redundancy or working their notice cannot continue to study in the workplace and be government funded under current rules, the AELP’s submission adds, meaning that “even if their employer is willing and wants to support their departing employee to prepare for a new role after redundancy, they cannot be funded”. 

AELP has now recommended that the Education and Skills Funding Agency should “flex the funding rules to allow employed learners at risk of redundancy on adult education budget programmes to be able to continue to study in the workplace and continue to be funded for it”.

These proposals are among seven key recommendations in AELP’s ‘Targeted Autumn Covid-19 Recovery Package for Skills’ which the association says are short-term actions they believe the government should take before the Budget and the Comprehensive Spending Review outcome expected in late November.

Other recommendations include retaining Covid-related rule flexibilities until the end of the academic year 2020-21 on how apprentices are assessed, as well as ensuring that the funding of apprentices already half-way through longer term apprenticeships of three to four years “will be safeguarded”.

Gillian Keegan, apprenticeships and skills minister, said: “I recognise Covid-19 has had a significant impact on apprentices, employers, training providers, and assessment organisations, which is why we introduced a range of flexibilities to ensure that apprenticeships could continue where possible.

“This included encouraging training providers to shift their training offer online so their students can continue their studies and so that providers are paid as normal, as well as making changes to end point assessments. We have also offered additional financial support to providers through our Provider Relief Schemes so they can continue to deliver high-quality training.

“Our Redundancy Support Service for Apprentices is  helping to make sure apprentices who have lost their jobs as a result of Covid-19 get the support they need to find a new opportunity and get on the path to a new career. We’re also considering how we can go further still to support redundant apprentices to complete their training, and will announce further detail in the coming days.”