National Apprenticeship Week 2021: new employer survey signals renewed optimism

Apprenticeships enable quicker COVID recovery for English businesses:

  • Appetite for apprenticeships and work-based learning on the rise amongst English employers in the wake of the COVID vaccine
  • While hard-hit sectors are still hesitant about hiring apprentices, 66% of employers that have embraced programmes during the pandemic report that they have been able to recover more quickly
  • The survey results will be discussed in detail in a report that will be launched at a National Apprenticeship Week webinar hosted by The Open University and The 5% Club. The panel will include learning and development experts from The Open University, Balfour Beatty, Salts Healthcare and Network Rail

At the turn of the new year, employers in England are placing new faith in work-based learning.

Ahead of National Apprenticeship Week, The Open University and The 5% Club found that nearly three quarters (70%) of employers held the belief that apprenticeships and work-based learning would be vital to their organisations’ recovery from COVID disruption, compared to just half (50%) of business in August of 20201

The number of organisations planning to increase their apprenticeship intake over the next twelve months has seen an increase as a result. In line with the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine, nearly three quarters (72%) now plan to hire more apprentices over the next year, up from under two thirds (61%) polled last summer. Encouragingly, this is true for both SMEs and large businesses.

Yet the most hard-hit sectors are still lagging behind when it comes to embracing work-based learning: 63 per cent of employers in hospitality, real estate, travel and tourism and the arts are planning to hire more apprentices over the next year.

At the same time sectors that have experienced a boom during the pandemic are set to see a further boost in workforce skills, as 81 per cent of employers within the information and digital services sector currently plan to increase their apprenticeship cohort.

The organisations that have prioritised the skills of their workforce and embraced apprenticeships can feel the benefit. Two thirds of English companies (66%) report that apprenticeships have enabled their organisation to bounce-back from the economic fall-out of the pandemic more quickly.

Employers also report that the programmes are widening their access to vital talent. Nearly three quarters (69%) of employers have started to hire candidates without degrees, or lower educational attainment in order to build up skills.

In line with National Apprenticeship Week’s 2021 theme, ‘Build The Future’, The Open University is encouraging employers to look to work-based learning to grow their own skills, build agility and to future-proof their organisations.

Laura Burley, Apprenticeships Ambassador at The Open University responded to the findings: “At The Open University we’ve seen first hand the steadying effect that embracing training and education has had on organisations throughout the pandemic. Not only does a continuous culture of workplace learning allow businesses to remain agile and competitive in these challenging times, but has also provided a vital means of retaining loyalty, engagement and adaptability when workforces are dispersed across the country.

“It’s encouraging to see that English employers are feeling more optimistic about apprenticeships now than at previous stages of the pandemic, and the arrival of the vaccine has certainly brought a sense of hope to what has been a hugely disrupted year. But with further pressures and challenges on the horizon, the need to invest in workforces and remain adaptable will continue to be an essential for organisations’ survival for years to come.”

Notes to Editors

The Open University commissioned PCP to survey over 600 businesses in England between 5 and 14 January 2021.

The full report will be published as part of The Open University and The 5% Club webinar ‘How apprenticeships can develop the future beyond the pandemic’ on Thursday 11 February.  The panel will include learning and development experts from The Open University, Balfour Beatty, Salts Healthcare and Network Rail.