The PCS ULF Project receives funding from the government via the Department for Education to support apprentices within the civil service. This area of work is further supported by the Civil Service Apprenticeships National Trade Union (NTUC) Committee and Cabinet Office Agreed Principles signed by the NTUC and Cabinet Office in January 2017. This allows PCS access to apprentices in order to offer support.
The Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic has impacted all areas of life including apprenticeships. These have been affected by changes to the working practices and home life, not only of the apprentices but also to the apprenticeship providers. As a result many apprentices have had to change the way they undertake their apprenticeship and in many cases the apprenticeship has been paused and in some instances restarted.
In order to identify the main issues facing apprentices during the pandemic, PCS conducted a survey that was open to all apprentices, both members and non-members, across all government departments and the four nations. In total 796 apprentices participated in the 59 question survey covering multiple aspects of the apprenticeship experience.
Summary of overall findings
The total number of responses was 796, with the highest level of engagement taking place within DWP at 42.9% followed by HMRC at 36.5%. There are separate specific reports for the DWP and HMRC. The remaining responses came from a variety of departments including the Home Office, the Department for Education, Ministry of Justice, MOD, ACAS, Cabinet Office, DEFRA, Land Registry, BEIS, Scottish Government, Welsh Assembly, Culture Media and Sport as well as a number of other smaller departments.
The majority of apprenticeships were at Level 3 (62%) and most are in Operational Delivery (51%). It would appear that Knowledgepool is the main provider, although a number of apprentices appear unsure of who their provider is with some giving the assessing body or simply stating that they do not know.
Almost half, 46.9% of respondents, indicated that their apprenticeship had paused. These were mostly in DWP where most apprenticeships had been paused. The vast majority resumed on 1 July. Approximately half of HMRC respondents had their apprenticeship paused. In most other departments apprenticeships appear to have continued, however, overall 12.6% appear to be unsure. This raises the question as to why they are unsure. If it has paused, has there been a breakdown communicating this information? If it hasn’t, are they receiving the appropriate contact and support from their provider and manager?
It would appear that 86.4% of respondents had no input into the decision to pause their apprenticeship with 21% having no idea who made that decision. Of those paused only 25.2% state they had a conversation with their manager or employer about it.
Of those apprentices whose apprenticeship had been paused, over a third had taken on extra work and a further third had taken on new work, mostly in response to Covid-19.
When asked whether their end date had changed 36.1% were not sure, once again raising the question as to why they were uncertain.
Almost a third of those continuing with their apprenticeship were not receiving the minimum 20% off the job training and almost a fifth were not in contact with their provider. The majority (88.8%) of those whose apprenticeship had not been paused were working from home, raising the question as to whether they were able to gather workplace activity evidence. In fact 44.5% of those whose apprenticeship had not been paused, stated that they either could not continue with their studies or could not continue to the same extent.
Reasons given included: being unable to undertake practical modules, unable to get witness statements from furloughed colleagues, unable to complete tasks, a lack of support, problems with tutors including some not having one for several months prior to the pandemic as well as others having tutors now furloughed or shielding.
The quality of online training was also raised, some had difficulty accessing online materials due to departmental restrictions. Concern was also expressed over having to complete the final presentation via video call. Others found online learning was not suitable for their disability raising questions around equality.
Those caring for children whilst schools were closed also found it challenging to continue with their study along with the demands of work pressures. Stress was also mentioned and the impact on well-being which was increasing anxiety toward the apprenticeship, partly due to having less time to spend on it. Due to a lack of classroom teaching some were having to teach themselves and others stated they missed having peer support. Additionally, several references were made to issues with micro-management.
A lack of information around timelines and assessments methods whilst working from home was raised, with further reference to being given conflicting information that regularly changed. A lack of suitable materials and structure were also identified ‘my cohort are basically guinea pigs for every other cohort in the future’. In some instances Covid-19 was considered as having ‘made what I think would have been a weak apprenticeship even poorer’.
Whilst responses came from those with varying lengths of time in the civil service, the majority of respondents started their employment from 2018 onwards which would suggest the majority of apprentices completing the survey are new to the civil service and 35% of respondents were aged 30 or less.
The majority (84.9%) of participants identified as having a white ethnic origin, 57.9% are female, 80.3% identify as heterosexual, with 12.9% stating they considered themselves as a disabled person and 0.5% identified as transgender. This could raise a number of questions about the level of diversity within the apprenticeship scheme.
Throughout the survey a significant number of responses suggested some apprentices were unaware of the detail surrounding their apprenticeship, for example, the name of their provider, the end date and whether the apprenticeship had been paused. This may suggest a breakdown of communication and a lack of information being shared.
A summary of the anonymised data from the survey is being shared with relevant groups to help support apprentices and improve apprenticeships going forward.
If you are experiencing any issues with your apprenticeship and would like additional support please contact your Union Learning Rep or Workplace Rep for further advice.