The UK needs emergency measures to protect apprenticeships and skills to save a “lost generation”, unions and industry leaders are warning.
They say a background of Covid-related redundancies means apprenticeship opportunities are disappearing.
New research showed that in May the number of apprenticeship starts for 16-18-year-olds dropped 79% year-on-year, while a third of manufacturers putting their apprenticeship training on hold or cancelling it due to the impact of the pandemic.
Make UK, the TUC, the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions and skills training providers Enginuity and Cogent, with other stakeholders from sectors including food and drink, automotive, chemicals and defence, have come together to demand the creation of a National Skills Taskforce to help the country retain skilled jobs.
Their report says the taskforce should explore where workers’ skills are in demand and should develop a programme to develop new digital and “green” skills.
Stephen Phipson, chief executive of Make UK, said: “Imaginative and speedy solutions are required to safeguard manufacturing in the UK in these unprecedented times.
“A National Skills Taskforce made up of representatives from industry, trade unions and Government – led by the Business Department – would go a long way to protecting the essential skills of the future within the sector.
“A programme to redeploy those highly skilled workers made redundant during Covid would safeguard manufacturing for the future, and help the sector retain hard-won talent as the country begins the hard work of economic recovery.
“Apprenticeships too are in danger of becoming another casualty – with companies already reducing or cancelling their training programmes altogether.”
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said: “Workers are going to face massive economic challenges in the months ahead and it is often young workers and apprentices who experience the worst impact.
“It is critical that the Government listens to this call to act urgently to support current apprentices to complete their programmes and to enable employers to continue to provide high quality apprenticeship opportunities.”
Steve Turner, Unite’s assistant general secretary said: “One positive change of direction that could be quickly executed and widely welcomed, certainly by manufacturing employers, is the apprenticeship levy. It isn’t working, certainly not for young workers, so we urge government to move fast and fix it.
“Vast sums of cash are standing idle in the Treasury, with employers unable to access it to fund apprenticeships.
“UK manufacturing desperately needs enthusiastic, visionary young people not just to replace those leaving in alarming numbers but to bring new ideas, develop vital new expertise.“
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