Coronavirus: NI employers are offered apprentice cash support

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The number of apprentices in NI has fallen sharply as a result of Covid-19

Employers will be paid up to £3,700 for each apprentice worker they train and retain under a new Department for the Economy (DfE) scheme.

Apprentices “earn and learn”, combining on-the-job training with study for a qualification.

However, many firms stopped recruiting them in 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The department has decided to offer financial incentives to employers to recruit and retain apprentices.

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About 4,500 NI apprentices have been furloughed

Apprenticeships are especially popular with younger workers who want to qualify in a trade and start a career.

They spend most of the week in work, but often attend college one day a week for classes.

However, they rely on employers taking them on and in the current economic climate the number doing that has fallen sharply.

Principals of further education (FE) colleges have warned that about half of employers who would previously have offered roles to apprentices have said they can no longer do so.

Apprentices laid off

For example, apprentice electrician places are down almost 50% so far in 2020, trainee motor mechanic places have dropped by 36%, while engineering apprenticeships are down a massive 77%.

Figures from DfE show that just before lockdown there were 7,714 apprentices in Northern Ireland, the vast majority aged 16-24.

However, according to the department about 4,500 of them have been furloughed, while almost 250 have been laid off.

As a result, DfE is to provide financial incentives to employers to retain and recruit apprentices.

Employers will be offered £3,700 for every apprentice that they bring back from furlough and retain until they have completed their apprenticeship.

That scheme will begin on 1 November when the UK-wide Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ends.

Employers will get £500 when an apprentice returns from furlough and a further £2,000 if they retain them for four months.

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Economy Minister Diane Dodds is offering funding up to £14m

A final payment of £1,200 will be made when the apprentice completes their qualification.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds said that there was total funding of £14.3m for the scheme.

“I want to encourage the return to work, retention and qualification of up to 4,500 furloughed apprentices in both the Apprenticeships NI and Higher Level Apprenticeship programmes,” she said.

“I want to minimise apprenticeship job losses, maintain and grow the supply of apprenticeship opportunities and support apprentices who have been displaced and lost their apprenticeship.”

Employers will also receive £3,000 for each new apprentice they recruit until 31 March 2021.

Mrs Dodds said that payment would cover all new apprenticeships created in the period by employers in all sectors.

‘25% of an apprentice’s wage’

Information for employers on how they can apply for the payments is due to be announced by the department shortly.

Industry sources told BBC News NI that the new payments could amount to around 25% of an apprentice’s annual wage and could encourage some firms to begin recruiting apprentices again.

A similar scheme introduced by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak offered firms in England £2,000 for every new apprentice they hired.

In August, the government in the Republic of Ireland offered employers up to €3,000 (£2,677) to recruit and retain apprentices.

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