Apprentices in lockdown: more than half of automotive retail apprentices have been furloughed


IMI launches Furlough Register, providing access to free learning resources, as new data suggests the sector could face dire skills challenge post-COVID-19

The Institute of the Motor Industry is running an on-going study1 of the automotive sector and how it is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, with its own clear focus on skills and supporting the next generation of workers, the IMI has researched the impact of the economic fallout on automotive retail apprentices. Early results suggest that urgent action is needed to ensure that the after-effects of COVID-19 don’t undermine the upskilling required for the new automotive technologies coming down the line.

The initial results from the IMI research suggest that more than 2,5002 apprentices in the automotive sector alone could ‘fall between the cracks’ during the extended furlough period:

  • More than half (53%) of the apprentice respondents have been furloughed
  • 83% said they are unable to continue to study in the same way they had been prior to lockdown
  • 18% are unable to engage with their employer
  • 21% are unable to access learning materials

Steve Nash, CEO of the IMI commented: “There has been much already said about the impact of COVID-19 on our future generations and this has been brought into sharp focus by our on-going study of the sector. Not surprisingly – but disappointingly all the same – it seems that apprentices have been an obvious group to furlough in order to manage costs. And whilst this does offer some level of job security, for the time-being, what seems to have been missed is that furloughing doesn’t mean individuals can’t still study and access the support they need to continue their learning.

“This is a big concern for us in terms of whether the apprentices will actually return to the workplace at the end of the furlough period. And that is not only a risk for the sector as it needs to be well prepared and well-skilled for the next generation of automotive technology. It is also a huge waste of the investment already made by the apprentices, their training centres and employers.”

Anecdotal feedback to the IMI study has found that some employers have been trying to continue to engage with their apprentices, even at minimum keeping them up to date with business matters. But this is not universal and there are a lot of reports of no contact or engagement at all. Apprentices have also reported looking for their own ways to continue their studies, using their initiative to access sources of learning materials and teaching themselves. But the IMI believes a concerted effort is needed to ensure the current cohort of automotive apprentices don’t ‘fall down a gap’ at this challenging time. As such it has launched its own Furlough Register, providing access to a range of free learning resources.  To date more than 40 apprentices have signed up to the register.

“The goal with the IMI Furlough Register is to be able to easily identify the apprentices who need support – and provide them with a range of learning tools they can access for free as and when they need them”, concluded Steve Nash.

Apprentices can complete the IMI survey here to join the Furlough Register. They will then automatically receive updates from the IMI as new materials are added to its resource bank.

Key Research Findings

Has your organisation furloughed staff or is it planning to do so?

Individuals were also asked Have you been furloughed or are you in the process of being furloughed?

  • 58% of apprentice respondents stated that their organisation have or are planning to furlough staff.
  • 53% of apprentice respondents have personally been furloughed

What measures has your organisation taken to manage your workforce as a result of COVID-19?

  • 8% of staff encouraged to work from home
  • 18% decreased working hours
  • 30% reduced staffing levels or made individuals redundant
  • 7% organisation / business has been temporarily closed

Have you been able to continue to study for your qualification in some form as a result of result of COVID-19?

  • Only 17% have been able to continue their studies with little or no change.
  • 39% of apprentices have outlined significant barriers for continuing with their studies.
  • 18% stated that they have been unable to engage with their employer.

What has your organisation done to engage with you remotely?

  • Engagement between employer and apprentices varies greatly. Apprentices have reported some instances of continued engagement via email, messaging providing updates on employment and business status. A number have reported use of a dedicated app to keep them up to date.
  • There have been reports of no support or engagement from employers since business has closed or furlough has been implemented.
  • There have also been reports training providers have ‘picked up’ the support element from the employer.
  • Some apprentices have looked for other ways to continue their studies, using their initiative to access sources of learning materials and teaching themselves.

1 The IMI launched its new study on 9th April 2020, reaching out to employers and workers, including apprentices. Results were downloaded on 7th May 2020.

2 FISSS data indicates there are at least 5,200 automotive apprentices in England, Scotland and Wales