Youth unemployment in the UK has risen sharply as a result of the Covid crisis. Official statistics show there are nearly half a million fewer young people in work than a year ago. More than half of under-25s have been furloughed or lost their jobs.

Pre-Covid, apprenticeships were already high on the national agenda. But there has been a big reduction in apprenticeship starts since the start of the pandemic (65% down among smaller employers). As the economy recovers, reviving apprenticeships is seen by the UK Government as a key mechanism for opening up access to employment and skills for young people who have been hardest hit by the economic impact of the pandemic.

A long-awaited Skills White Paper has now been published at the heart of which is an agenda for achieving parity between technical vocational education and academic learning. This has been a longstanding stated national policy objective, but will it be backed up by investment and political will? From a European perspective, the UK government decision to pull out of the Erasmus programme and then not even attempt to include any vocational training mobilities in its rushed and ill-thought through replacement, the so-called “Turing scheme”, doesn’t inspire confidence.

But, certainly resources are being focused nationally on the apprenticeship programme. And in the Spring budget two new relatively small-scale investments were announced to support more young people from under-represented and disadvantaged communities into apprenticeships. The existing incentive scheme which offers employers a payment per hire has been increased in value, but most importantly for the creative sector, a new ‘flexi-apprenticeship’ programme will start in January 2022, which will allow apprentices to work for a number of different employers in the same sector. This will make it easier for seasonal, project-based and small-scale employers in creative sectors such as crafts, performing arts, music, visual arts and design to come together and offer a range of skills and work contexts within a single apprenticeship. A fund has been created so that employers can team up to create an agency in order to offer “modular” Apprenticeships encompassing a range of roles with different employers in one sector. This agency approach has been advocated and welcomed by the creative sector support organisation, Creative and Cultural Skills, as mentioned in their Case Study interview in the P4CA UK Country Report.

This is good news and represents an innovative model. But at a time when whole swathes of the cultural/creative economy have been ravaged by the pandemic, the fundamental issue remains, for a sector that is, in many areas, dominated by micro employers, freelancers, temporary/seasonal contracts. Is the national apprenticeship model resourced and adapted to the real needs and dynamic potential of the creative economy, or are there still simply too many barriers in the system that will continue to prevent creative employers from taking on apprenticeships at the scale achieved in other sectors?