42 weeks after the start of ‘Lockdown 1’: update on the impact of COVID-19 on Higher & Degree Apprenticeship vacancies in England

Headline news

It was back in mid-May 2020, eight weeks after the first lockdown officially started, that I began posting this series of blogs. Today’s is the 33rd in the series.

In those first eight disastrous weeks the number of new HA and DA vacancies was 77% down on the pre-lockdown figure and it continued to hover around this percentage until the end of July. But then it began to pick up and since the start of August there has been a continuous improvement which was sustained right up until Christmas Eve, by which time the reduction had been cut to 19%. This signalled a dramatic recovery, albeit that my data has a lot of imperfections in it.

It was highly likely, however, that there would then be a blip over the Christmas and New Year period. To top that we are now also experiencing the devastating upturn in coronavirus cases and a second lockdown. Consequently, this week’s set of data is the first in five months to show a downward trend. The big question is, will the recovery resume sooner or later, or not at all?

Meanwhile, my occupational and regional analyses continue to evolve in an intriguing way. Further down you can see the latest picture of what’s been going on and how vacancies overall have been distributed across England. This week I have added an extra little twist to the regional figures to give an enhanced sense of proportion. Whichever way you look at it, the North West has now moved into second place behind London, which is my obscure reason for the choice of this week’s image, a photo I took during a wintry business trip to Manchester.

In fact, this week’s top performing county was Cheshire with 29 new vacancies, 18 of which were with Astrazeneca in Macclesfield. Next best was Staffordshire, where all 20 new vacancies were for Student Mental Health Nurses based in one of my old stamping grounds, Stoke-on-Trent.


Since the first ‘lockdown’ started on Monday 23rd March 2020, I have kept a record of all new higher and degree apprenticeship vacancies posted in England. I largely use data extracted every week from the government’s ‘Find an apprenticeship’ website, while also keeping an eye on other national vacancy sources. The audience I write for is the school/college-leaver market and those who advise them and I therefore exclude any vacancies that I consider wholly unsuitable for 18/19-year-olds seeking their first permanent role.

I’ve been compiling similar data since autumn 2018, so each week I compare my post-lockdown data with the corresponding number of weeks pre-lockdown, whilst also building up occupational and regional analyses. When recording multiple vacancies posted by some of the larger employers, I use an element of editorial licence. I usually record precise information on numbers and locations, but in a few cases I’ve made educated, conservative estimates based on data and patterns I’ve noted in previous years. I also adjust these retrospectively if updated data comes to light.

Therefore, the figures I present each week will never be fully reliable nor will they ever fully compare like with like. However, as the picture develops week on week, the broad trends and occupational and regional breakdowns provide some powerful LMI that can be immensely useful in guidance.

Headline data

During the latest two weeks, from 28th December to 8th January, I recorded:

  • 57 new Degree & Level 7 Apprenticeship vacancies and
  • 48 new Higher Apprenticeship vacancies

The overall comparison pre- and post-lockdown now looks like this:

  • In the 42 weeks prior to lockdown (3rd June 2019 to 20th March 2020) I recorded 4,197 new Degree & Level 7 Apprenticeships and 2,813 new Higher Apprenticeships, giving a total of 7,010 and an average of 167 new vacancies each week.
  • In the 42 weeks since the start of lockdown (23rd March 2020 to 8th January 2021) I have recorded 3,105 new Degree & Level 7 Apprenticeships and 2,437 new Higher Apprenticeships, giving a total of 5,542 and an average of 132 new vacancies each week.  

This represents a 21.0% reduction in vacancies post-lockdown compared with pre-lockdown, which is still a dramatic improvement on the dire situation that prevailed during the spring and early-summer when the reduction was close to 80%. However, the next few weeks will tell us whether this can be sustained.

Updated regional analysis

My evolving regional data is broken down by county and region and every county in England is represented. When large employers post multiple vacancies across a range of locations, I make strenuous efforts to identify those locations. In a small number of cases however, when big companies have posted nationwide vacancies with no indication of where in England they’re distributed, I have used either their head office location or, if applicable, the university city that apprentices will go to for some or all of their off-the-job studies. This is another element of my ‘editorial licence’, but it only marginally skews the overall figures.     

The 5,542 higher and degree apprenticeships advertised in England since the start of lockdown have been distributed as follows:

  • Greater London (1,293)
  • Yorkshire (582)
  • West Midlands (387)
  • Greater Manchester (321)
  • Hampshire (238)
  • Gloucestershire & North Bristol (223)
  • Surrey (194)
  • Berkshire (159)
  • Lancashire (155)
  • Hertfordshire (134)
  • Nottinghamshire (132)
  • Merseyside (126)
  • Cumbria (124)
  • Tyne & Wear (118)
  • Suffolk (102)
  • Cheshire (98)
  • Essex (94)
  • Sussex (87)
  • Dorset (82)
  • Cambridgeshire (76)
  • County Durham (72)
  • Warwickshire (72)
  • Wiltshire (72)
  • Somerset & South Bristol (60)
  • Staffordshire (57)
  • Northamptonshire (56)
  • Devon (52)
  • Kent (51)
  • Bedfordshire (51)
  • Derbyshire (46)
  • Leicestershire (45)
  • Buckinghamshire (45)
  • Norfolk (31)
  • Oxfordshire (27)
  • Lincolnshire (17)
  • Shropshire (16)
  • Isle of Wight (16)
  • Worcestershire (15)
  • Cornwall (5)
  • Northumberland (3)
  • Herefordshire (2)
  • Not specified (6) 

The following list shows how those stats add up regionally. In brackets I’ve added the total population of each region using the latest ONS data rounded to the nearest 1,000, which gives a sense of proportion to the apprenticeship figures. For example, in population terms the North East is by far the smallest region, so the differences in apprenticeship numbers are not as disproportionate as they might appear. As a way of quantifying this a little further, this week I’ve added an extra stat in bold which indexes the apprenticeship figures against the total population of each region. In effect, the index equals the number of DAs and HAs per 10,000 of total population.  

  • 1,293 London (8,962,000: 1.443)
  •    824 North West (7,341,000: 1.122)
  •    817 South East (9,180,000: 0.890)
  •    582 Yorkshire & Humber (5,503,000: 1.058)
  •    549 West Midlands (5,934,000: 0.925)
  •    494 South West (5,625,000: 0.878)
  •    491 East of England (6,236,000: 0.787)
  •    293 East Midlands (4,836,000: 0.606)
  •    193 North East (2,670,000: 0.723)
  •        6 Not specified

Updated occupational analysis

Each week I update my occupational analysis by breaking down the new vacancies into what I loosely term ‘occupational areas’, which in some cases differ from the official apprenticeship standards terminology. Since the start of ‘Lockdown 1’ the complete lists of occupational areas represented in each category are given below. In my view, this provides a fascinating insight into what the emerging occupations are in a changing landscape.

Degree & Level 7 Apprenticeships:

In total there have been 3,105 new vacancies spread across 71 occupational areas and minimum starting salaries have ranged from £6,474 to £30,000pa. The occupational breakdown is as follows: 

511 Accountancy or Tax Specialists

368 Digital Technology Solutions (general) *see below for more details

325 Police Constables

212 Software Engineers

182 Project Management

167 Chartered Management (general)

109 Civil Engineers

103 Design, Development & Mechanical Engineers

  91 Electrical/Electronic Engineers

  82 Aerospace Engineers

  79 Data Scientists & Analysts

  70 Chartered Building/Property/Valuation Surveyors  

  59 Food Technology & Production

  57 Cyber Security Specialists

  53 Professional Economists

  49 Logistics & Supply Chain Professionals

  44 Chartered Quantity Surveyors 

  37 Network Engineers

  36 Digital Marketing Professionals

  33 Construction Management

  31 Retail Management

  30 Nursing (20 Mental Health, 10 Adult)  

  29 Financial Services Professionals

  29 Manufacturing Engineers

  27 Manufacturing & Production Management (non-food)        

  27 Sales Professionals

  25 Control Engineers

  21 Laboratory Scientists

  20 Nuclear Engineers

  14 Building Services Design Engineers

  14 Railway Engineers

  12 Digital User Experience (UX) Professionals

  11 Solicitors

  10 Materials Scientists/Technologists

    9 Broadcast & Media Systems Engineers

    9 Packaging Professionals

    8 Clinical Trials Specialists

    8 Environmental Practitioners

    8 Gas Transmission Engineers

    8 Gas Turbine Propulsion Engineers

    8 Town Planners

    6 Cardiac Physiologists

    6 Creative Digital Designers   

    6 Environmental Health Officers

    6 Human Resources Professionals  

    6 Non-Destructive Testing Engineers

    5 Chemical Engineers

    4 Automotive Engineers

    4 Biomedical Healthcare Scientists

    4 Marketing Management

    3 Building Control Surveyors

    3 Compliance & Risk Specialists

    3 Diagnostic Radiographers

    2 Geospatial Mapping/Planning/Surveying

    2 Internal Auditors

    2 Neurophysiologists

    2 Occupational Therapists

    2 Tax Technologists

    2 Transport Planners

    1 Building Information Modelling Specialist (BIM)

    1 Chartered Legal Executive   

    1 Digital Healthcare Specialist

    1 Digital Transformation Engineer

    1 Human Performance Engineer 

    1 Learning Technologies Support Teacher

    1 Marine Engineer

    1 Midwife

    1 Ordnance Munitions & Explosives Specialist

    1 Podiatrist

    1 Radiation Engineer (Healthcare)

    1 Visual Merchandiser

*Digital Technology Solutions (general) has encompassed the following specialisms. They are either not specified in the vacancy posting, or in many cases apprentices are able to sample multiple areas: Software Engineering, Software Development, Software Testing, Network Engineering, Data Science, Data Analytics, Data Architecture & Integration, Cyber & Information Security, IT Consultancy, Software Consultancy, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Business Systems Engineering, Project Management, Technology Management, Technology Operations & Service Delivery, Innovation Technologist, Infrastructure Specialist, Solution Engineering & Development, Junior Product Management, User Experience Researcher, Innovation Design Analyst, Global Mobility Analyst, Agile Analyst, Content Analyst.

Higher Apprenticeships:

In total there have been 2,437 new vacancies spread across 67 occupational areas and minimum starting salaries have ranged from £6,474 to £30,000pa (the same salary range as DAs). The occupational breakdown is as follows: 

289 Trainee Accountants / Accounting Technicians

263 Software Developers 

179 Sales Executives

178 Data Analysts

178 Project Management Associates

110 Manufacturing Engineering Technicians 

102 Tax Technicians

  78 Policy Officers

  70 Investment Operations

  69 Nursing Associates

  63 Software Testers 

  59 Insurance Professionals

  58 Civil Engineering Technicians

  56 Network Engineers

  53 Children, Young People & Family Practitioners

  46 Cyber Security Technologists/Analysts

  45 Commercial Procurement & Supply Specialists

  41 Technician Scientists

  40 Construction Technicians/Site Supervisors

  40 Quantity Surveying Technicians 

  38 Junior Management Consultants

  34 Electrical/Electronic Engineering Technicians

  34 Regulatory Compliance Professionals

  32 Business Analysts 

  28 Public Relations Assistants  

  25 Building Services Engineering Technicians

  22 Buying & Merchandising (Fashion/Homewares)

  14 Digital Marketing Executives

  12 Broadcast & Media Systems Technicians

  12 Human Resources Practitioners     

  12 Nuclear Technicians

  11 Food Technology/Engineering/Production

  10 DevOps Engineers

    9 Investment Consultants

    8 Marketing Executives

    7 Brewers

    7 Housing & Property Management

    7 Internal Auditors

    7 Logistics & Supply Chain Specialists

    7 Mineral Products Technicians

    7 Retail Management

    6 Automation & Control Engineers

    6 Automotive Engineering Technicians

    6 Financial Paraplanners/Advisers

    6 Operations Management   

    6 Construction Design & Build Technicians

    5 Hearing Aid Dispensers

    5 Hospitality Management

    4 Actuarial Technicians

    4 Hygiene Specialists

    4 Learning & Skills Teachers 

    4 Social Care Leaders

    3 Learning & Development Practitioners   

    3 Ordnance Munitions & Explosives Technicians

    2 Paralegals

    2 Tax Technology Technicians

    1 Facilities Management

    1 Intelligence Analyst

    1 Lighting Designer

    1 Quality Practitioner

    1 Passenger Transport Management

    1 Recruitment Consultant

    1 Rehabilitation Officer (Visual Impairment) 

    1 Revenue & Benefits Officer    

    1 School Business Professional

    1 Sports Development Officer   

    1 Wedding Accessories Designer

Going forward

All being well, I will post another update next week.

© Alan Bullock, 10/1/2021

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