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Education / Number of apprenticeships over coming year set to take dip

THE COVID-19 pandemic is expected to impact the number of apprenticeships on offer in the 2020/21 academic year in Shetland, the isles’ college board heard on Wednesday.

Some businesses are running with a “wait and see” approach with regards to taking on apprentices as the economy edges out of lockdown, Shetland College principal Jane Lewis said.

Earlier this year Train Shetland had been awarded a contract with Skills Development Scotland for 100 places, but the bid was submitted prior to the pandemic.

Following a question from North Mainland councillor Emma Macdonald vocational training coordinator Kevin Briggs said it is expected that only about two thirds of this figure – 66 or 67 – will become available.

Briggs said the main bulk of apprenticeships in Shetland remain with the council in areas such as care and childcare.

But he said some private businesses are still uncertain as to whether they are able to take on apprentices in the coming year, with a “less than certain” picture over the next six months.

South mainland councillor George Smith also asked how the pandemic has affected current apprenticeships.

“Obviously the last five, six months have been a difficult time for everybody, which has meant that some of our apprentices have been subject to the furlough scheme,” Briggs said.

However, over the “last two, three months the vast majority of them have returned to work”, he added.

Briggs said that he was aware of two or three apprentices who had been let go from their job, but one had managed to secure an apprenticeship elsewhere, and one was not connected to Covid-19.

He believed that there has been a “smaller impact” on apprentices in Shetland than there has been elsewhere.

Briggs added that there has also been a struggle with some apprentices in completing their course as a result of delays associated with lockdown, with finishing dates in some cases having to be put back.

Smith said it was “really encouraging” to hear that there was a minimal impact on apprentices when it came to uncertainty over their role, but he warned a close eye will need to be kept on when the furlough scheme ends in the coming months.

He also praised how staff have adapted to the circumstances of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, there has been an overall increase in the number of applications for places at Shetland College for the next academic year.

Figures presented on Wednesday showed that by 29 July there were 281 applications in for 2020/21 – an increase of nearly 30 on the previous year.

There has been notable increases in the number of part-time further education applications – from 81 to 102 – while full-time higher education applications have risen from 66 last year to 92 this year.

However, there has been a decline in full-time further education and part-time higher education applications.

Depute college principal Susan Berry said further education applications in particular were well below target.

Some areas of concern when it came to numbers were business, hospitality and computing.

Berry also confirmed that recent controversial school exam results, which were based on teacher estimates, had not had a big impact on application numbers.

Principal Lewis also said the Scottish Funding Council has provided assurance that there will be no “clawback of funds” if credit targets are not met as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A report to college board members said that due to the pandemic some SVQ courses “have not performed as anticipated, impacting negatively on our ability to meet our credit target”.

Figures for the 2019/20 academic year showed 4,247 further education credits have so far been achieved in Shetland’s tertiary education sector – 98 per cent of the target.

Lewis warned that as data is explored more thoroughly in light of the pandemic, the “total number of credits achieved may slightly decrease from those presented”.

Shetland College, meanwhile, is running at 20 per cent capacity as the academic year returns with a blended approach of remote and face to face learning.

This equates to 72 people in the building, but this may increase when restrictions allow.

Lewis said the college already had “quite a bit of experience” of running courses online, with an MA in art and social practice already undertaken entirely virtually.

Students are asked to only come to the college when they are timetabled to have practical classes in the building.