Download our special supplement showcasing National Apprenticeship Week 2021, published in partnership with NCFE.

It has been a year like no other for apprenticeships which, like so many parts of the employment and training sector, have taken a substantial hit from the coronavirus pandemic.

Official Department for Education data shows there were 60,860 apprenticeship starts reported between 23 March (when the first lockdown started) and 31 July 2020 – a 46 per cent drop compared to the 111,570 reported for the same period the previous year. Figures also show there’ve been more than 3,000 apprentices made redundant since the start of 2020.

There are however signs of the drop in take-up easing, with latest quarterly data for the start of 2020/21 showing a less dramatic percentage fall. But serious challenges persist as we aim to enter the recovery period from Covid-19, for which the government hopes that apprenticeships will be play a key role in tackling unemployment.

That is why this year’s National Apprenticeship Week was arguably more important than ever before. It gave ministers, employers, providers and apprentices the opportunity to remind everyone of this route into the world of work that can have a life-changing impact even in these testing times.

The theme for the week, now in its 14th year, was ‘Build the Future’ and people from across the nation refused to let Covid-19 put a stop to them doing just that, putting on virtual events such as roundtable discussions and podcasts, and spreading the word through social media.

Throughout this supplement, sponsored by NCFE, we showcase some great examples of how the programmes have continued in the face of the pandemic. First up on page 5 we hear from skills minister Gillian Keegan about the government’s reforms to apprenticeships and latest attempts to increase numbers, before shadow education secretary Kate Green lays out the measures Labour believes are needed to attract more people and employers.

From pages 7 to 12 we delve into how training and assessment has been adapted over the last year, as well as highlighting some of the events from the week, featuring the UK’s “oldest apprentice”.

It is then the turn of apprentices Amber James and Nigel Bennett (pages 14 to 15) to tell you their first-hand experience of their course, before we put a spotlight on one of the most experienced apprenticeship employer’s on page 16.

Lastly, we hear from the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education about the flexibilities they’ve introduced for training and assessment, some of which might stay for the long term, and from the sector’s membership organisations about the challenges providers have had to overcome.