This page sets out guidance and temporary measures for apprentices, in response to the impact of COVID-19. It outlines the changes that the Department for the Economy (DfE) is making to the apprenticeships programmes during the COVID-19 pandemic and provides answers to questions related to these changes, and other common questions.

Guidance for apprentices should be read alongside wider government's COVID-19 guidance and support for business and employers

The government has introduced a series of urgent measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  DfE will keep this guidance, under review, and will continue updating this guidance as new information is available.

This guidance and the temporary measures introduced, published on 23 April 2020, apply until further notice (updated 31 July 2020).

General Information

The Department for the Economy (DfE) has been working to respond to the challenges facing apprenticeships as a result of COVID-19.

These are undoubtedly difficult times for apprentices, employers and training contractors.  DfE and other Government Departments have implemented measures to protect the public, including the suspension of all face-to-face education and training, and recognise that these measures are having a significant impact on apprentices’ employment and learning. DfE is committed to supporting apprentices, and to ensure the appropriate support measures are in place now and to support the role apprentices will play in the re-building of the NI economy.  

Your training contractor will provide you with up to date advice around the continuation of your learning.

If you have an urgent query and are unable to contact your training contractor please e-mail apprenticeships@economy-ni.gov.uk

Information and advice about taking care of your mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak can be found at Coronavirus (COVID-19): taking care of your mental health and wellbeing.

Please note: Any reference to “training contractor” includes Contracted Training Providers, Further Education Colleges and Universities.

Qualifications and Examinations

DfE has commissioned CCEA Regulation to work closely with the awarding organisations and other regulators to ensure, where possible, that learners in NI taking vocational qualifications are not disadvantaged by the suspension of scheduled exams/assessments due to social distancing.

COVID-19 Intervention Measures for Apprentices

The UK Government and NI Executive have taken measures to support businesses and individuals as a result of COVID-19.

DfE has also developed a range of immediate measures, which have been communicated to training contractors, to address the immediate impact of COVID-19 on Apprenticeship Programmes.

The immediate intervention measures which have been introduced, and other forms of support available, for apprentices during this period are explained within this guidance and will be kept under review.

COVID-19 Interruption to Employment – Furloughed Apprentices

To provide security for those employees, including apprentices, who find themselves unable to work, the UK Government announced on 20 March 2020 that it would introduce a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The purpose of the Job Retention Scheme was to reduce redundancies and to avoid people being laid off without pay.

As a result of the current COVID-19 crisis, apprentices may have been furloughed under the terms of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Through this scheme, all UK employers are able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salaries for those PAYE employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis. The amount of grant available will depend on the month that your employer is claiming for.HMRC will reimburse 80 per cent of furloughed workers’ wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. The scheme closed to new entrants on 10 June 2020.

While on furlough you should not undertake any work for the company and in exchange your employer can claim a grant to cover part of your regular wages, up to a monthly cap of £2,500. The amount of grant available will depend on the month that your employer is claiming for.

Employers may choose to “top up” the difference between the amount they are reimbursed by the government and full salary, but this will not be funded through this scheme.

Further information on Furlough Working is available at While you're on furlough.

You should refer any queries around terms and conditions, including wages, to your employer.

It may be possible for you to continue learning whilst furloughed subject to agreement of employer, apprentice and training contractor and whether e-learning is available from the training contractor and taking into consideration HMRC advice on pay.

 Apprentices may also be eligible for financial support from the Department for Communities during the COVID-19 outbreak. Further information is available Department for Communities website

Continued learning during COVID-19

As a result of the current COVID-19 crisis, all face to face apprenticeship training has been suspended since Friday 20 March 2020. However there has been a partial reopening of Further Education (FE) colleges and work-based-learning providers to support the delivery awarding of vocational qualifications this summer.

In the meantime, training contractors have been asked to continue and complete training (as part of contracted hours of employment) in a different way including facilitation of online learning, learning portfolio building work where possible and re-scheduling planned assessment activity for a later date.

If you have concerns about the continuation of your learning, or queries around the availability of online learning please contact your training contractor to discuss. As an apprentice, you may have been furloughed under the terms of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The scheme guidance permits the continuation of training during furlough, however any continuation of ApprenticeshipsNI and Higher Level Apprenticeship directed training during the furlough period must be with the agreement of your training contractor and employer, taking into consideration HMRC advice on pay.

Normal apprenticeship training will be re-instated in line with government guidelines.

Support for Apprentices made Redundant during COVID-19

DfE recognises the stress and worry caused by redundancy, especially within these unprecedented times. If you were made redundant, or stopped working on or after 28 February 2020, you can be re-employed, put on furlough (temporary leave of absence) and 80 per cent of your wage, up to a cap of £2,500 per month, can be claimed via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. You should discuss this option with your employer.

In the unfortunate circumstance where you have not been furloughed and are made redundant please consider the redundancy support advice available at Coping with redundancy.

If you are made redundant your training contractor will be required to remove you from the apprenticeship programme. You can be rejoined at the earliest possible opportunity.

If you are aged 16-17 and are an apprentice who has been made redundant, you may be able to continue the knowledge based qualification with your training contractor as part of the Training for Success (TfS) Programme (or transfer to another training contractor if your current provider does not offer TfS).  This should be discussed with your training contractor if you are made redundant. If you join TFS you will receive a weekly training allowance.

Sourcing alternative employment

It is our ambition that apprentices will be supported to find alternative employment to continue their apprenticeship as quickly as possible, in addition to the support available now, outlined below, DfE will consider the need for additional support measures to help apprentices find alternative employment.

Support to apprentices who are made redundant including help to source an alternative employer to continue your apprenticeship or alternative employment within a different sector/career path is available as follows:

  • The Careers Service – The Careers Service provides an impartial, all-age careers information, advice and guidance service, and can support you in matching your skills and experience to those opportunities currently in demand. For more information about the Careers Service see nidirect Careers or to contact one of the professionally qualified careers advisers go to Careers Service contact.
  • Job and Benefits Office – There is a network of Jobs and Benefits offices throughout Northern Ireland and JobCentre Online where you can get information on job vacancies with further information available at jobcentreonline website.

Rejoining the Apprenticeship Programme

If you were already on the programme and left as a result of COVID-19 redundancy, you can rejoin to complete the rest of your apprenticeship once an employer

has committed to your apprenticeship. You and your employer must speak to a training contractor to arrange your rejoin and your ‘off-the-job’ training. Further information is available at Find training if you are rejoining the apprenticeship programme.

Other Financial Support

Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for financial support, including Universal Credit, from the Department for Communities during the COVID-19 outbreak. Further information is available Department for Communities website

Frequently Asked Questions and further information

These questions and answers will be updated regularly in line with advice from the UK Government, the NI Executive, the Department for the Economy (DfE) and the Public Health Authority.

  1. If I need to self-isolate, what will happen to my apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships have been designed to be responsive to changes in apprentices’ circumstances, for example during a period of illness. If you need to self-isolate, please talk to your employer and training contractor about the best way to continue with your apprenticeship.

Options include:

  • an increase in e-learning
  • re-scheduling planned assessment activity for a later date.

The appropriate steps will be agreed based on you and your employer and training contractor’s situation.

  1. I need to take care of myself/a family member. Can I continue my apprenticeship learning at home?

Yes, this may be possible, depending on your apprenticeship and whether e-learning is available from your training contractor. Please contact your training contractor to discuss your options.

  1. I am being Furloughed – what does this mean and how will this impact on the future of my apprenticeship?  

As a result of the current COVID-19 crisis if you and your employer both agree, your employer might be able to keep you on the payroll if they are unable to operate or have no work for you to do because of COVID-19. This is known as being ‘on furlough’.

You should not undertake any work for the company while furloughed and your employer can apply for a grant to cover part of your regular wages, up to a monthly cap of £2,500. The amount of grant available will depend on the month that your employer is claiming for.

The scheme guidance permits the continuation of training during furlough, however any continuation of ApprenticeshipsNI / Higher Level Apprenticeship directed training during the furlough period must be with the agreement of the contractor, employer and apprentice, taking into consideration HMRC advice. You should contact your contracted provider, via email, to discuss options.

  1. What happens if I do not agree or want to go on Furlough?

Both you and your employer must agree to put you on furlough. If your employer asks you to go on furlough and you refuse you may be at risk of redundancy or termination of employment, depending on the circumstances of your employer. However, this must be in line with normal redundancy rules and protections.

  1. My employer is laying me off/making me redundant. What happens to my apprenticeship?

You should discuss the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme with your employer as an alternative to COVID-19 redundancy.

If you are made redundant your training contractor will be required to remove you from the apprenticeship programme. You can be rejoined at the earliest possible opportunity.

Further support available to support apprentices who are made redundant including help to source an alternative employer to continue your apprenticeship and redundancy advice is included within this guidance.

  1. What will happen to my apprenticeship assessment and certification?

The safety and interests of apprentices is paramount and it is clear that it will not be possible to proceed with scheduled assessments and exams for vocational qualifications over the coming months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As an apprentice you may be understandably concerned about what will happen next with your vocational qualification studies.

On 23 April 2020, the Minister for the Economy announced that the award of vocational qualifications and Essential Skills in Northern Ireland for Summer 2020 should be based on a calculated approach as far as possible, using adaptation where required and delaying the assessment only as a last resort.

However, calculated grades are not appropriate for all qualifications particularly those in sectors with a high level of health and safety and regulation. Awarding organisations have been working with learning centres to agree adaptive assessments.

The Department has agreed the partial re-opening of FE colleges and Private Training Organisations (PTOs) delivering departmental work-based-learning programmes to facilitate adaptive assessments, subject to meeting necessary health and safety and other conditions, as is also considering the full re-opening of these premises for mainstream education and training.

Where possible, you should engage regularly with your training contractor and continue your learning remotely if this option is available to you.

  1.  I am currently a Higher Level Apprentice, does this information apply to me?

As a Higher Level Apprentice most of the guidance above also applies to you, with the exception of being able to continue your qualification through the Training for Success programme.  Where reference is made to a ‘training contractor’ this refers to the Further Education College or University you are enrolled with for your off-the-job training.  You should keep in touch with them at this time and notify them of any change in circumstances with your employer.

Further Apprenticeship Queries

For queries not covered by this guidance, please contact DfE Apprenticeship Delivery and Performance Branch at the following email addresses:

apprenticeships@economy-ni.gov.uk or higherlevelapprenticeships@economy-ni.gov.uk

 

 

 

 

 

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