The Engineering Trust

Taking the temperature of the businesses we work with

As we move out of lockdown I wanted to talk to some of our employers and find out how their businesses have been effected during the pandemic and if they would be taking advantage of the incentives now available.

Recently our Chief Executive, Mark Vingoe wrote in his blog about the chancellor Rishi Sunak’s ‘Plan for Jobs’ and outlined the incentives for apprenticeships, you can read the blog here

As we move out of lockdown I wanted to talk to some of our employers and find out how their businesses have been effected during the pandemic and if they would be taking advantage of the incentives now available.  

I spoke to three of our employers and asked them each three questions; How has your business fared through the pandemic? Will the government apprenticeship incentive scheme announced in the summer statement encourage you to take on a new apprentice in the next six months? Do you see your business using any of the other schemes (Kick-start, Traineeships, the return to work bonus) set out in the summer statement and why? 

Some of the businesses asked not to be identified so we have not used names in any of the answers.  

Manufacturing business in Bicester  
Unfortunately, sales dropped by around 50% in April 2020 and are slowly recovering, but not to where we would like them. Until we see a return to at least pre COVID-19 sales we will not think about taking on additional staff and our priority now is to look after the staff we currently have. No, we wouldn’t see ourselves using any of the other schemes for the same reasons outlined above. 

Medical Device Manufacturer in Oxfordshire 
We have continued to produce products as normal albeit with some changes to non-essential staff having to work from home. As the business produces medical devices our products are still needed. In addition, the company have been selected to provide blood lancets for one of the Covid anti-body kits so we have had to increase some production lines. 
No, we are not looking to employ apprentices this year due to company restructuring, moving some of our production whilst a new plant is being built. Our plan is to employ apprentices from Sep 2021 to ensure we can offer full time employment at the end of the apprenticeship and for these reasons wouldn’t be using any of the government incentives. 

Surface Engineering Business in Northamptonshire 
The majority of our staff have returned from Furlough. The business did take a financial hit because we were busy when lockdown started and that dropped off over the lockdown period. We are back open and on track to meet our monthly expectations for this month. 
Yes, we were encouraged by the incentives offered by the government however using them depends on business need, availability of resources to mentor/train/manage the apprentice and the risk of further Covid-19 restrictions and the effect they would have. We are planning on using the return to work bonus incentive scheme. 

A mix of responses from our three employers in terms of how their business has fared during the pandemic. It is pleasing to see that they are heading in the right direction however it does show that the incentive offered by the government for employers to take on apprentices isn’t having much affect. Granted, this isn’t a massive sample however it is a good representation of where a lot of engineering and manufacturing businesses are at present. On the whole, these sectors (in Oxfordshire and the surrounding counties where we work) do seem to have held their own during the pandemic but it is highly dependent on the specific area they are involved in. If the scheme is really going to have an effect and encourage businesses like these to use it then it has to be more attractive and actually change the minds of businesses who are trying to recover. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) have called on the government to make good their statement in regard to an ‘apprenticeship guarantee’ earlier in the year and strengthen the incentive scheme in order for it to really drive businesses to have the confidence and means to take on new apprentice.     
The engineering and manufacturing sectors have for many years been big supporters of apprenticeships and see them as vital to prevent skills shortages within their workforce however without a more attractive incentive to take on new staff, then the opportunities for people looking to go into the sector may not be there for some time. 
What’s next? 
For those that can take on new staff the incentive of up to £3k is in place from now through to 31st January 2021 – more about the incentive scheme here 
For those who are not looking to take on more staff, looking at apprenticeships for current employees may be of interest. They are a cost effective way of offering CPD as well as upskilling team members to aid businesses recovery. More about using apprenticeships for existing staff here 
Written by Jovan, Training Officer