Apprentices made redundant by the fallout from COVID-19 are being offered a lifeline by an industry-focused charitable trust backed by one of Scotland’s largest trade associations.
The Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT), which was established by campaigning electrotechnical trade body SELECT and Unite the Union, has stepped in to work with both trainees and employers to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
SECTT, which manages high-quality training on behalf of the Scottish Joint Industry Board (SJIB), is actively seeking alternative employment for apprentices whose posts have disappeared, and has placed many out ‘on loan’ to companies to keep their training and skill sets up to speed.
It is hoped these employers will now offer the apprentices employment and the opportunity to complete their apprenticeship, with 50% of the young people temporarily placed with other companies now being offered full-time jobs.
The Trust says the number of apprentices being taken on has fallen from a running average of 700 to 380 since the construction industry in Scotland was shut down in March this year. Of the 2,650 apprentices in training, 52 have been made redundant, 29 of them since 1 June.
Anne Galbraith, chief executive of SECTT, said: “The Trust is acting decisively because, in times of crisis, not only are training budgets in the firing line, but recruitment freezes close off employment opportunities for young entrants to the workforce.
“SECTT Training Officers have been working urgently on this issue, since not every one of our trainees has access to IT and communications tools, and face-to-face training effectively ceased in March. Working with our approved centres we have been able to offer remote learning for some of the course work.
“Five months is a long time without site or college interaction and it has been proving difficult to engage with some apprentices, but thankfully only a few. The fear is that many are struggling with confidence issues and even fear of going out.
“We have been identifying those at risk and supplying laptops so that they can remain in contact and complete any online course work. SECTT Training Officers have also been operating a business as usual policy and contacting apprentices on a regular basis.
“Having said that, it is very encouraging that most SELECT members are not paying off apprentices and are also trying hard to help those in trouble. Their reaction has been extremely positive. And while recruitment numbers are down, they are rising again every week.
“As well as advice and a friendly ear, we want to be able to support the redundant apprentices to continue at college so that they can complete the stage they are in, as this makes them more attractive to employers.”
Galbraith added: “My priority is on our current apprentices and ensuring that they can return to college safely and are all able to complete the stages of their apprenticeship. We can then focus on recruitment. All the above supports the Scottish Government’s recovery plans.”
Fiona Harper, the Secretary of the SJIB, said: “We know times are hard and, although the UK Government’s furlough scheme has helped, some businesses are still faced with a challenging economic future.
“In an ideal world, we would want these employers to retain their apprentices where possible, but we also realise that this may not be a realistic option for everyone. However, if the worst does happen, we want apprentices to know that we are here for them and will do our very best to help.
“SECTT has been working extremely hard over these past few months, finding alternate employment for apprentices and placing them with suitable employers.
“SELECT Members should also be saluted for the way they have stepped in and offered to help with much-needed offers of work, helping us to give these would-be electricians hope for the future.”