Coronavirus: COVID-19 - Apprenticeship guidance for employers

News article

Guidance for employers that outlines the changes the Department for the Economy (DfE) has made to its apprenticeship programmes during the COVID-19 pandemic

DfE has been working to respond to the challenges facing apprenticeships as a result of COVID-19.

These are undoubtedly difficult times for apprentices, employers and training contractors and DfE continues to implement new measures to address the impact of the pandemic. Face-to-face apprenticeship training can once again be undertaken by training contractors where appropriate, and subject to the advice provided in the framework document for safe resumption of onsite training.

DfE continues to work closely with training contractors to develop the required support measures for apprenticeships going forward.

COVID-19 has also led to employers tailoring and adapting their businesses as a result of increases in demand within certain sectors and the need to recruit new employees. It is important that the value and relevance of apprenticeships in these circumstances are considered so that new employees, or existing employees operating in a new role, can acquire skills that are important for personal, business and economic stability and for future growth.

DfE are working closely with CCEA Regulation to put arrangements in place for flexibilities in assessment for 2020-21. DfE has commissioned CCEA Regulation to work closely with the awarding organisation’s and other regulators to ensure the safe delivery of teaching and learning and utilise any opportunities for blended learning approaches.

Please note: Any reference to 'training contractor' includes contracted training providers, further education colleges and universities.

Funding measures to support employers

Apprenticeship Recovery Package

The Department for the Economy (DfE) has developed an Apprenticeship Recovery Package for Northern Ireland that will channel financial support to local businesses to help the apprenticeship system respond to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Apprenticeship Recovery Package includes short term interventions which are targeted to reduce significant longer term economic impacts. These interventions aim to reduce unemployment and ensure that employers continue to have access to people with the skills and qualifications needed to maintain productivity, to grow their businesses and to assist in closing the skills gap, ensuring that more people have a pathway to better paying jobs.

There are three strands of support available to employers:

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

To provide security for those employees, including apprentices, who found themselves unable to work, the UK Government announced on 20 March 2020 that it would introduce a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This scheme closes on 31 October 2020 however the government is introducing a new Job Retention Bonus to provide additional support to employers who keep on their furloughed employees in employment, after the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ends on 31 October 2020.

Job Support Scheme

The new Job Support Scheme will open on 1 November 2020 and run for six months until April 2021. The employer will pay the employee for time worked, but the cost of hours not worked will be split between the employer, the Government (through wage support) and the employee (through a wage reduction), and the employee will keep their job. If using the Job Support Scheme your employer will also be able to claim the Job Retention Bonus if they meet the eligibility criteria.

The UK Government and the NI Executive put in place additional funding measures to support employers, reduce redundancies and to avoid people being laid off without pay through the COVID-19 crisis - see Coronavirus updates: support for your business.

The impact of COVID-19 resulted in many business closures for a variety of reasons including a fall in demand, to protect customers and employees and by government mandate. It is hoped that as a result of the package of funding measures introduced by government that COVID-19 businesses closures will be temporary. However for some it may take time before they return to pre-pandemic levels of demand and production.

Employers are encouraged to utilise the support that is being made available by the UK Government and the NI Executive to help them and their employees to get through these difficult times.

Making an apprentice redundant as a result of COVID-19

It is hoped that as a result of the package of support measures introduced by the UK Government and the NI Executive that the need for redundancy will be minimised.

Redundancy should only be considered once all other options have been exhausted. Employers are urged to consider the package of support available and the benefit of having apprentices ready to help rebuild their business at the earliest opportunity.

If, despite the availability of support, you find your business in the unfortunate situation of having to make apprenticeship redundancies the normal legal provisions apply including:

  • steps to minimise the number of compulsory redundancies;
  • carry out an appropriate consultation with employees and their representative; and
  • issuing appropriate notices and statutory redundancy payments.

Further information on providing a fair and transparent redundancy process and mitigation against the risk of tribunal claims, see redundancy: the options.

If you have made an apprentice redundant the training contractor will be required to remove them from the apprenticeship programme. If your apprentice is aged 16-17 they may be able to continue their knowledge-based qualification with their training contractor (or a different training contractor) as part of the Training for Success Programme and would be entitled to receive a weekly training allowance. You should discuss this with them when they are made redundant.

Apprenticeship training

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis and the measures taken to protect the public and reduce the spread of the virus your apprentice’s off-the-job training will have been interrupted or changed.

Face to face apprenticeship training can once again be undertaken by training contractors where appropriate, and subject to the advice provided in the framework document for safe resumption of on-site training.

Training contractors will also continue to develop a blended approach to delivering training including facilitation of online learning where appropriate.

The training contractor will continue to carry out required reviews of apprenticeship progress during this period including engagement with you and your apprentice.

Apprentices unable to attend work

As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and the advice and measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus and protect the public, an apprentice’s attendance at work may be disrupted because of illness, caring responsibilities or operational disruption to your business.

To support businesses who are paying or who have paid sick pay to their employees the UK government announced legislation to allow small and medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19. The scheme will open to all UK employers who had fewer than 250 employees on 28 February 2020.

Further information on the scheme can be found at the link below:

The health and safety of apprentices, and all other employees in the workplace, must remain a priority.

Find further information and advice on Coronavirus (COVID-19): taking care of your mental health and wellbeing.

Increased demand in sectors due to COVID-19

As a result of a rapid change in customer requirements and practices some businesses have experienced a significant increase in demand or have had to adapt their business practices and operating model to meet demands created by COVID-19. For some businesses, this change will be temporary but for others, the change in customer practices may be longer-lasting.

The business benefits of employing an apprentice include introducing new fresh talent, meeting your business requirements, developing loyal and motivated staff, realising increased productivity and improving business competitiveness for business growth.

Apprenticeships are key to supporting businesses to meet skills needs and grow the wider economy and employers should consider how apprenticeship programmes can support and contribute to the development and growth of their businesses to support the recovery of the economy post-COVID-19.

Frequently asked questions and further information

These questions and answers will be updated regularly in line with advice from the UK Government, the NI Executive and the Public Health Authority.

1. My business has closed due to COVID-19 – what happens to my apprentice/s?
Employers are encouraged to continue to utilise the business support that has been made available by the UK Government and the NI Executive if they have had to close their business as a result of COVID-19.

Apprentices should discuss how best they can continue their learning with you as their employer and with the training contractor.

2. If my apprentice needs to self-isolate, what will happen to their apprenticeship?
Apprenticeship programmes, ApprenticeshipsNI and Higher Level Apprenticeships have been designed to be responsive to changes in apprentices’ circumstances, for example during a period of illness. If an apprentice needs to self-isolate, please talk to the training contractor about the best way to continue with the apprenticeship.

Options include:

  • an increase in e-learning;
  • re-scheduling planned assessment activity for a later date; and
  • a pause in apprenticeship to be resumed at a later date.

You may also be eligible for support if your apprentice is receiving sick pay as a result of COVID-19. The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme will repay employers the Statutory Sick Pay paid to current or former employees. The scheme is open to all UK employers who had fewer than 250 employees on 28 February 2020 across all their PAYE payroll schemes.

3. My apprentice needs to take care of a family member. Can they continue their apprenticeship learning at home?
Yes, this may be possible subject to the agreement of employer, apprentice and training contractor and whether e-learning is available from the training contractor. If you and your apprentice are in agreement please contact the training contractor to discuss the options.

4. I am asking my apprentice to take a period of unpaid leave. What happens to the apprenticeship during that time?
Rather than making staff redundant or asking them to take unpaid leave employers are encouraged to consider utilising the support that is available through the Apprenticeship Recovery Package.

5. Due to business continuity measures, all staff are required to be available at their usual place of work. How can my apprentice continue their learning?
If your apprentice is unable to attend their scheduled learning events, there may be options available to you and you should discuss with your training contractor representative as soon as possible. It may be possible for your apprentice to engage in digital or distance learning at a convenient time within their contracted working hours. If there is no suitable alternative directed training can be paused until normal working patterns resume.

6. I am having to temporarily move staff into different and/or business-critical roles that aren’t related to their apprenticeship. What happens to their apprenticeship?
It is hoped that apprentices can promptly resume their apprenticeship and continue to successful completion at the earliest opportunity. Apprenticeships have been designed to be responsive to changes in apprentices’ circumstances, if there has been a change to their job role this should be discussed with the apprentice and training contractor regarding the best way to accommodate a change of role into an alternative apprenticeship or pause the existing apprenticeship.

If the apprentice's move becomes permanent, you should liaise with your training contractor to discuss apprenticeship options.

7. What do I do if I think my apprentice is not well enough to work (especially in a health setting)?
The health and safety of apprentices, and all other employees, must remain a priority.

Employers should follow the government's guidance for employers - see COVID-19: Managing staff health, pay, leave and absence.

Further apprenticeship queries:
For queries not covered by this guidance, please contact Apprenticeships Delivery and Performance Branch at the following email addresses:

apprenticeships@economy-ni.gov.uk or higherlevelapprenticeships@economy-ni.gov.uk


First published 24 April 2020