New research from the Sutton Trust examines the impact of coronavirus on apprenticeships and finds that 1 in 13 apprentices have been made redundant.

  • Employers surveyed say that up to two-thirds (61%) of their apprentices have lost out on work experience or learning.
  • The decline in new apprenticeships likely to be exacerbated.
  • Separate research finds it is the well-off, older students who benefit from the growth in degree-level apprenticeships.

The current health crisis is having a significant effect on apprenticeships, according to the latest in a series of coronavirus impact briefs from the Sutton Trust. The research finds that companies are furloughing or making apprenticeships redundant, off the job learning has been disrupted, and apprentices, already on low pay, have faced additional cuts.

Polling of 156 employers that offered apprenticeships before the coronavirus outbreak, finds that up to three-fifths (61%) say their apprentices have lost out on work or learning following the crisis. 36% have been furloughed, 8% made redundant and 17% have had their off-the-job learning suspended.

A quarter (24%) of the employers who offered apprenticeships said their apprentices’ learning provider had closed and a smaller proportion (16%) reported that their provider had been unable to continue provision online.

While over half (58%) of employers surveyed were confident that all of their apprentices would return to their course once restrictions are relaxed, today’s research raises serious concerns for the future of apprenticeships.

The number of people starting apprenticeships dropped by 7% in the first half of 2019/20. This decline is expected to be exacerbated as a direct result of the crisis. Employers’ focus will be on recovering from the economic consequences of the pandemic and hiring and training new apprentices will not be a priority. This will mean fewer vacancies available, and more competition for fewer opportunities.

Today’s polling comes alongside a new report by the Sutton Trust on degree apprenticeships and social mobility. Degree apprenticeships were introduced in 2015 with the promise of offering young people an alternative to a traditional university degree. They offer a powerful combination of academic learning and on-the-job training, giving young people the opportunity to ‘earn while you learn’, graduate with little or no debt and with skills the marketplace wants.

The number of degree apprenticeships has grown rapidly, from 756 in 2015/16 to 13,587 in 2018/19. Since 2017, there has also been a big rise in other degree-level apprenticeships, award qualifications equivalent to a degree but not from a university, from just 19 four years ago, to 8,892 last year.

However, today’s report finds that much of this growth has not benefitted young people, with more than half of degree apprenticeships taken up by people over 30. Senior leadership courses – equivalent to an MBA – have expanded significantly, growing six-fold from 552 to 3,410 in 2018/19, but the proportion of young apprentices from deprived communities taking degree level apprenticeships up has fallen (from 9% in 2016 to 6% last year).

At the same time the number of older apprentices from well-off areas has more than doubled (from 5% to 11%), leading to a growing access gap for those under 25. Senior leadership and chartered management courses alone now make up almost half (46%) of the entire degree apprentice cohort as employers look to put their senior staff through these courses rather than train younger, less affluent employees.

The Trust is making a series of recommendations to ensure that apprenticeships deliver social mobility opportunities for young people:

  • At a time of economic downturn and limited resources, apprenticeship levy funding should not be spent subsidising senior executives taking MBA-style qualifications, but should instead be focused on providing new opportunities for young people facing a challenging labour market.
  • The priority for current apprentices should be to continue training where possible, even when on furlough or if redeployed within a company.
  • In order for apprenticeships to deliver on the social mobility agenda as we come out of the coronavirus crisis, social mobility and widening opportunity should be an explicit criterion in the government’s review of the apprenticeships levy.

The Trust is launching its first ever apprenticeships summer school modelled after its highly successful university summer schools to widen access to degree and degree-level apprenticeships. Applications for the programme – which will be online this year but face-to-face in the future – are open now.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said:

“The coronavirus crisis has already had a serious impact on apprentices, with 61% being made redundant or furloughed, or unable to access their learning.

“The priority for current apprentices should be to continue their training where possible and the government must do more to support training providers. In the long-term, apprenticeships have a crucial role to deliver on the government’s social mobility agenda which will be especially important as we come out of the pandemic.

“Degree apprenticeships were introduced in 2015 with the promise of offering young people an alternative to traditional degrees. They offer a powerful combination of on the job learning and academic work, enabling young people to graduate with little or no debt and with the skills the marketplace wants.

“The Trust is also launching its first-ever apprenticeship summer school, modelled after its highly successful university summer schools to widen access to degree apprenticeships.”


  • The Sutton Trust is committed to improving social mobility from birth to the workplace. Founded by Sir Peter Lampl in 1997, the Trust has supported over 30,000 young people through evidence-led programmes and published over 200 pieces of agenda-setting research, many of which have influenced government policy.
  • Figures on apprenticeship employers are from YouGov Plc. 500 senior HR decision makers were surveyed, of which 156 were employing apprentices in March 2020. Fieldwork was undertaken between 9th-16th April 2020. The survey was carried out online.
  • On 9 June 2020, the Social Mobility Commission will release a new research study, Apprenticeships and social mobility: fulfilling potential, which scrutinises the effectiveness of the entire apprenticeship system in promoting social mobility – at Intermediate, Advanced and Higher level – three years after the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy.
  • The degree apprenticeship report is based on statistics on apprenticeship starts published by the Department for Education, up to and including the most recent full year, 2018/19. Further detail was gained, specifically on the group of those taking degree apprenticeships at higher education institutions, from statistics obtained from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) for the years 2016/17 to 2018/19.
  • Degree-level apprenticeship – Degree-level apprenticeships are higher apprenticeships at level 6 (bachelor’s equivalent) or 7 (master’s equivalent), that include a work-based, a combined qualification or a professional qualification.
  • Degree Apprenticeship – Degree apprenticeships are a specific type of degree-level apprenticeship, which result in a degree awarded by the higher educational institution (university or FE college).
  • The apprenticeship levy was introduced in 2017. Employers with a payroll over £3 million pay 0.5% of this into their digital account, which is then topped up by 10% by the government. They then draw down this money to fund apprenticeship training. The intention was that not every employer would spend their full levy allowance and the unspent funds would be accessed by non-levy employers (i.e. Small and Medium Enterprises) to fund their apprentices.

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