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

Headline news and latest reflections

The new year has started steadily, and I think I would happily settle for that in the current circumstances. Degree apprenticeships have been slow to pick up again, but my Week 43 data was boosted by some extra numbers from vacancies posted in December that I’ve learned about through my contacts. There are also early signs of more activity coming up next week, which gives me cause for continued optimism.

My obscure photo choice for Week 43 is one I took in leafy St Albans, where 15 new higher apprenticeship vacancies were posted during the week by leading accountancy and business services firm Moore Kingston Smith for their March 2021 intake, thereby also consolidating Hertfordshire’s place in the top ten of my regional rankings.

I want to give a special mention to a couple of immensely inspiring young professional women with whom I had video calls during the week. These were Sarah, a Project Management apprentice with Vodafone and Judith, a Principal Town Planner at WSP and proactive member of the RTPI’s BAME Planners Network. One of the insights I found fascinating was the immediate and seamless way they both adapted to remote working at the start of the pandemic. It gave me a vivid impression of one of the ways in which COVID-19 has, to quote World Economic Forum MD Saadia Zahidi, “accelerated the arrival of the future of work”. This will be a key theme of some upcoming school/college presentations I’m giving.

It also brings to mind the way that teachers across the country have themselves done an amazing and undervalued job adapting the delivery of education to ‘the new normal’.     


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, whilst 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 week, from 11th to 15th January, I recorded:

  • 43 new Degree & Level 7 Apprenticeship vacancies and
  • 72 new Higher Apprenticeship vacancies

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

  • In the 43 weeks prior to lockdown (27th May 2019 to 20th March 2020) I recorded 4,252 new Degree & Level 7 Apprenticeships and 2,890 new Higher Apprenticeships, giving a total of 7,142 and an average of 166 new vacancies each week.
  • In the 43 weeks since the start of lockdown (23rd March 2020 to 15th January 2021) I have recorded 3,148 new Degree & Level 7 Apprenticeships and 2,509 new Higher Apprenticeships, giving a total of 5,657 and an average of 132 new vacancies each week.  

This represents a 20.8% reduction in vacancies post-lockdown compared with pre-lockdown, which remains a dramatic improvement on the dire situation that prevailed during the spring and early-summer when the reduction was close to 80%. Tthe 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 5,657 higher and degree apprenticeships advertised in England since the start of lockdown have been distributed as follows:

  • Greater London (1,325)
  • Yorkshire (585)
  • West Midlands (389)
  • Greater Manchester (326)
  • Hampshire (241)
  • Gloucestershire & North Bristol (223)
  • Surrey (194)
  • Berkshire (176)
  • Lancashire (164)
  • Hertfordshire (150)
  • Nottinghamshire (132)
  • Merseyside (126)
  • Cumbria (124)
  • Tyne & Wear (119)
  • Suffolk (103)
  • Cheshire (99)
  • Essex (94)
  • Sussex (87)
  • Cambridgeshire (84)
  • Dorset (82)
  • County Durham (73)
  • Warwickshire (73)
  • Wiltshire (72)
  • Somerset & South Bristol (64)
  • Staffordshire (57)
  • Northamptonshire (56)
  • Bedfordshire (52)
  • Devon (52)
  • Kent (51)
  • Derbyshire (46)
  • Buckinghamshire (46)
  • Leicestershire (45)
  • Oxfordshire (33)
  • Norfolk (31)
  • Lincolnshire (19)
  • Shropshire (16)
  • Worcestershire (16)
  • Isle of Wight (16)
  • 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 so far this year per 10,000 of total population.  

  • 1,325   London (8,962,000: 1.478)
  •    844   South East (9,180,000: 0.919)
  •    839   North West (7,341,000: 1.143)
  •    585   Yorkshire & Humber (5,503,000: 1.063)
  •    553   West Midlands (5,934,000: 0.932)
  •    517   East of England (6,236,000: 0.829)
  •    498   South West (5,625,000: 0.885)
  •    295   East Midlands (4,836,000: 0.610)
  •    195   North East (2,670,000: 0.730)
  •        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 3,148 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/Tax/Audit Professionals

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

325 Police Constables

218 Software Engineers

184 Project Management

167 Chartered Management (general)

111 Civil Engineers

107 Product Design, Development & Mechanical Engineers

  93 Electrical/Electronic Engineers

  82 Aerospace Engineers

  82 Data Scientists & Analysts

  70 Chartered Building/Property/Valuation Surveyors  

  59 Food Technology & Production

  55 Cyber Security Specialists

  53 Professional Economists

  49 Logistics & Supply Chain Professionals

  49 Network Engineers

  44 Chartered Quantity Surveyors 

  37 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

  22 Laboratory Scientists

  20 Nuclear Engineers

  15 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 Automotive Engineers

    6 Cardiac Physiologists

    6 Creative Digital Designers   

    6 Environmental Health Officers

    6 Human Resources Professionals  

    6 Non-Destructive Testing Engineers

    5 Chemical 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, Business Systems Developer, 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, Scientific Computing Specialist.

Higher Apprenticeships:

In total there have been 2,509 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: 

328 Trainee Accountants / Accounting Technicians

266 Software Developers 

181 Data Analysts

181 Project Management Associates

181 Sales Executives

110 Manufacturing Engineering Technicians 

102 Tax Technicians

  78 Policy Officers

  70 Investment Operations

  69 Nursing Associates

  63 Insurance Professionals

  63 Software Testers 

  60 Network Engineers

  58 Civil Engineering Technicians

  53 Children, Young People & Family Practitioners

  49 Commercial Procurement & Supply Specialists

  46 Cyber Security Technologists/Analysts

  44 Construction Technicians/Site Supervisors

  41 Technician Scientists

  40 Quantity Surveying Technicians 

  38 Junior Management Consultants

  34 Electrical/Electronic Engineering Technicians

  34 Regulatory Compliance Professionals

  33 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 Automotive Engineering 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 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

I certainly intend to post another update next week. I would also like to acknowledge the suggestion of Sarah at Vodafone that my long lists of data might benefit from being presented visually. I had been thinking that myself for some time, but I need to get my head around how best to do it!   

© Alan Bullock, 17/1/2021

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