Two years since the start of the first COVID lockdown: how the Higher & Degree Apprenticeship landscape in England has shaped up

Latest reflections

When the country first locked down two years ago, I needed a new project to focus my mind on. I decided to refresh an activity I was already engaged in and that fed into the “Options at 18 in a Changing World” talks I presented in various schools and colleges.

The activity involved tracking and collating data on all new degree and higher apprenticeship vacancies advertised in England and condensing the stats into a couple of slides that I used in my talks to describe the DA and HA landscape. The one simple change I made on 23rd March 2020 was to re-start the count and slightly refine it, whilst also separately retaining the data I’d already been collecting for the previous 70 weeks. My assumption was that the pandemic would adversely affect the provision and availability of apprenticeships open to the 6th form and college students with whom I worked, and I wanted to try and capture and measure the impact this would have.

What then happened was that my worst fears were initially realised, with a fairly catastrophic reduction in vacancies at first. However, by the end of the summer I could see strong signs of a recovery. Then fast forward to March 2022 and my summing up would be that the picture is actually more healthy now than it was in pre-pandemic days, but with numerous caveats that I outline in my Background section below.    

Earlier this week there was also a new twist. In response to last week’s article, I was contacted by a recruiter in my network who said that her company have had a few apprenticeships open recently but have seen a big dip in applicants, and almost no school-leavers. Instead, they’re getting more response from career changers and people who dropped out of uni. There may be reasons for this, but we’re going to discuss it as soon as we both have time.

I’m not going to comment further on the trends I’ve seen over the past two years because I think the data below is the best way I can tell the story.  


Since the first ‘lockdown’ started on Monday 23rd March 2020, I’ve kept a record of new higher and degree apprenticeship vacancies posted in England and in doing so have built up an evolving occupational and regional analysis. 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 including NHS Jobs, Not Going to Uni, Rate My Apprenticeship, Amazing Apprenticeships, UCAS and Investment 20/20.

I collated similar data for a period of 70 weeks prior to the March 2020 lockdown and my weekly headline data now compares the pre-lockdown and post-lockdown figures, using the two 70-week periods either side of lockdown as a benchmark.

My target audience is Level 3 school and college leavers and their  parents, carers, teachers and advisers. Therefore, I only include vacancies at Levels 4 to 7 that ‘work-ready’ 18/19-year-olds seeking their first permanent role could reasonably apply for, whether at the point of leaving school/college or after a few months of temporary experience. If more than a year’s permanent experience is clearly required, I don’t normally include the vacancy in my figures.

I would also emphasise the term ‘work-ready’ because academic qualifications alone will never be enough to compete successfully for a higher or degree apprenticeship. Whilst a UCAS points score of around 112 is often needed for DAs (sometimes more, sometimes less), it’s otherwise much more about the skills, qualities and insights you can bring. STEM subjects will also put potential applicants at a significant advantage in terms of opening up a wider range of options.

My data will never be fully reliable because not all vacancies are advertised nationally in a way that also gives an indication of actual numbers and locations. However, the analyses that I’ve built up paint an intriguing picture of what’s out there in a changing post-18 career landscape. The figures also suggest that supply is never likely to match demand and that there may be something of a mismatch between the occupations to which young people often aspire and the reality of what’s available.

One further and slightly confusing factor to take into account is that it’s quite normal for some 18/19-year-old school/college leavers to apply for lower level apprenticeships too, especially at Level 3. In fact I sometimes see Level 3 apprenticeships that ask for A Level or equivalent qualifications and Level 4 to 7 apprenticeships that don’t. It’s also true that a significant proportion of opportunities will be snapped up by older applicants. It’s a competitive market place, so work-readiness really matters.  

Headline data

During the latest period from 14th to 20th March 2022, I recorded:

  • 84 new Degree Apprenticeship vacancies and
  • 100 new Higher Apprenticeship vacancies

In the 104 weeks since the start of lockdown (23rd March 2020 to 20th March 2022) I’ve now recorded:

  • 9,848 new Degree Apprenticeships (Levels 6/7) and
  • 10,655 new Higher Apprenticeships (Levels 4/5)
  • giving a total of 20,503

Using the 70 weeks either side of the initial COVID-19 lockdown (on 23/3/20) as a benchmark, my latest comparative figures are as follows:

  • Weekly average in the 70 weeks before lockdown: 82 DAs + 71 HAs = 153 total
  • Weekly average in the 70 weeks after lockdown: 84 DAs + 75 HAs = 159 total
  • Weekly average in the 104 weeks since lockdown: 95 DAs + 102 HAs = 197 total

This shows that both DAs and especially HAs have more than fully recovered since the initial reductions in the early days of the pandemic. Whilst it’s fair to say that I’m being more thorough in the way I track down and monitor new vacancies than I was in pre-COVID days, I’m definitely sensing an upward trend in volume compared with how things looked two to three years ago.

Updated regional analysis

The 20,503 higher and degree apprenticeships advertised in England since the start of lockdown have been distributed as follows:

  • Greater London (4,516)
  • Yorkshire (2,023)
  • West Midlands (1,254)
  • Greater Manchester (1,116)
  • Bristol & Gloucestershire (866)
  • Hampshire (769)
  • Berkshire (646)
  • Hertfordshire (559)
  • Surrey (516)
  • Tyne & Wear (441)
  • Nottinghamshire (431)
  • Cheshire (415)
  • Sussex (413)
  • Cambridgeshire (389)
  • Essex (384)
  • Warwickshire (367)
  • Suffolk (366)
  • Lancashire (365)
  • Merseyside (333)
  • Wiltshire (289)
  • Somerset & South Bristol (279)
  • Staffordshire (275)
  • Devon (267)
  • Leicestershire (263)
  • Bedfordshire (255)
  • Kent (247)
  • Derbyshire (240)
  • Dorset (230)
  • Norfolk (229)
  • Oxfordshire (226)
  • Cumbria (224)
  • Northamptonshire (223)
  • Buckinghamshire (220)
  • County Durham (212)
  • Worcestershire (157)
  • Lincolnshire (150)
  • Shropshire (90)
  • Cornwall (55)
  • Isle of Wight (41)
  • Northumberland (31)
  • Herefordshire (30)
  • Rutland (3)
  • Home working (21)
  • Not specified (77) 

The following list shows how those stats add up regionally. In brackets I’ve included 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 quite as disproportionate as they might appear. (In my data Yorkshire & Humber includes North Humberside and East Midlands includes South Humberside.)

As a way of quantifying this a little further, 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 post-lockdown per 10,000 of total population. This currently shows that Yorkshire & Humber and the West Midlands are the ‘best-performing’ regions after London.

  • 4,516   London (8,962,000: 5.04)
  • 3,078   South East (9,180,000: 3.35)
  • 2,453   North West (7,341,000: 3.34)
  • 2,182   East of England (6,236,000: 3.50)
  • 2,173   West Midlands (5,934,000: 3.66)
  • 2,023   Yorkshire & Humber (5,503,000: 3.68)
  • 1,986   South West (5,625,000: 3.53)
  • 1,310   East Midlands (4,836,000: 2.71)
  •    684   North East (2,670,000: 2.56)
  •      98   Not specified / home working 

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 in March 2020, 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 Apprenticeships (Levels 6/7):

In total there have been 9,848 new vacancies spread across 97 occupational areas and minimum starting salaries have ranged from £5,590 to £30,629pa. The occupational breakdown is as follows: 

1,042 Digital Technology Solutions (General) *see below for details

  992 Accountancy/Tax/Audit Professionals

  645 Police Constables

  619 Software Engineers

  570 Chartered Managers (General)

  507 Nurses (434 Adult, 55 Mental Health, 13 Learning Disability, 5 Child)

  424 Civil Engineers

  391 Project Managers

  387 Chartered Quantity Surveyors 

  342 Data Scientists/Analysts

  294 Chartered Building/Property/Valuation/Land Surveyors  

  245 Electrical/Electronic Engineers

  244 Supply Chain Leaders

  242 Design & Development Engineers

  204 Food Technology/Production/Manufacturing Professionals

  177 Digital Marketing Professionals

  160 Cyber Security Professionals

  152 Manufacturing Engineers

  127 Sales Professionals

  122 Professional Economists 

  119 Retail Leaders

  112 Aerospace Engineers

  109 Solicitors

  103 Financial Services Professionals

    99 Building Services Design Engineers 

    98 Laboratory Scientists

    94 Network Engineers

    93 Construction Managers

    73 Environmental Practitioners

    65 Digital User Experience (UX) Design Professionals

    64 Nuclear Engineers

    64 Railway/Rail Systems Engineers

    59 Control Engineers

    44 Operating Department Practitioners 

    40 Internal Audit Professionals

    39 Radiographers (28 Diagnostic, 11 Therapeutic)

    38 Manufacturing & Production Managers (non-food)        

    34 Electro-Mechanical/Mechatronics Engineers

    31 Broadcast/Media Systems Engineers

    30 Creative Digital Design Professionals   

    29 Materials Science Technologists/Engineers

    27 Town Planners

    25 Automotive Engineers

    24 Clinical Trials Specialists

    23 Healthcare Science Practitioners: Physiology/Neurosensory (9 Neurophysiology, 8 Cardiovascular, 5 Respiratory/Sleep, 1 Audiology)

    23 Packaging Professionals 

    22 Business Analysts

    20 Recruitment Professionals

    19 Chemical Engineers    

    19 Human Resources / People Professionals  

    19 Podiatrists

    19 Weapons Munitions & Explosives Engineers

    17 Environmental Health Officers

    17 Journalists

    17 Transport Planners    

    16 Design & Construction Managers

    16 Occupational Therapists

    14 Healthcare Science Practitioners: Clinical Engineering / Medical Physics (4 Nuclear Medicine, 3 Medical Engineering, 2 Radiation Physics, 2 Radiotherapy Engineering, 1 Radiotherapy Dosimetry, 1 Rehabilitation Engineering, 1 Renal Specialist)

    14 Junior Traders (Financial Markets)     

    12 Architectural Assistants

    12 Public Health Practitioners

    11 Non-Destructive Testing Engineers

    11 Social Workers 

    10 Geospatial Mapping/Surveying Professionals

    10 Marketing Managers

     8 Agricultural/Horticultural Advisers

     8 Gas Transmission Engineers

     8 Healthcare Science Practitioners: Biomedical Science

     8 Propulsion Engineers

     6 Actuarial Professionals

     6 Physiotherapists

     5 Healthcare Science Practitioners: Digital Healthcare Science

     5 Operations Analysts

     4 Assistant Teachers / Learning Coaches

     4 Chartered Legal Executives   

     4 Compliance & Risk Specialists

     4 Fire Safety Engineers

     4 Geotechnical/Geospatial Engineers

     3 Building Information Modelling (BIM) Specialists

     3 Digital Transformation Engineers

     3 Fitness/Leisure Centre Managers

     3 Healthcare Science Practitioners: Bioinformatics

     3 TV Production Managers

     2 Buying & Procurement Professionals

     2 Education Technology Specialists

     2 Midwives

     2 Pensions Professionals

     2 Tax Technologists

     1 Brewer

     1 Charity Manager

     1 Events Manager

     1 Facilities Manager

     1 Human Performance Engineer 

     1 Marine Engineer

     1 Population Health Intelligence Analyst

     1 Prosthetist & Orthotist

     1 Visual Merchandiser

*Digital Technology Solutions (General) has encompassed or led to the following range of specialisms:   

Software Engineer, Software Developer, Software Tester, Network Engineer, Data Scientist, Data Analyst, Global Data Analyst, Data Architect, Network Architect, Enterprise Architect, Cyber Security Specialist, IT Consultant, Solutions Consultant, Software Implementation Consultant, Software Consultant, Project Manager, Project Co-ordinator, Business Intelligence Specialist, Business Systems Engineer/Developer, Automation Developer, Full Stack Developer, Technology Architect, Technology Manager, Innovation Technologist, Innovation Design Analyst, Agile Analyst, Application Support Analyst, Business Analyst, Global Mobility Analyst, Content Analyst, Security Operations Analyst, Process Mining Analyst, User Experience Researcher, Junior Product Manager, Infrastructure Specialist, FinTech Expert, DevOps Engineer, Solutions Engineer, Automation Engineer, Support Engineer, Cloud Engineer, Sales Engineer, Sales Account Manager, Sales Operations Manager, Scientific Computing Specialist, Platform Manager, Service Manager, Engineering Information Manager, Amazon Web Services Specialist, Supervisory Control & Data Acquisition Specialist, Fixed Telecoms Specialist, IT Support Analyst, IT Service Desk Analyst, Support Desk Analyst, WordPress Developer, Technology Operations & Service Delivery Specialist, Functional Consultant, Technical Consultant, Digital Manufacturing Engineer, Solution Engineering & Development Specialist, Client Delivery Specialist, Client Success Specialist, Client Consultant, Operations Resilience & Change Specialist, Innovation Foundry Specialist, Continuous Improvement & Automation Specialist and Railway Signalling Control Systems Specialist.

That’s some list and it keeps on growing.

Higher Apprenticeships (Levels 4/5):

In total there have been 10,655 new vacancies spread across 120 occupational areas and minimum starting salaries have ranged from £5,590 to £35,000pa. The occupational breakdown is as follows: 

1,044 Sales Executives

  877 Software Developers 

  825 Data Analysts

  796 Trainee Accountants / Accounting Technicians

  780 Project Management Associates

  336 School/Community Sports Coaches    

  299 Manufacturing Engineering Technicians 

  297 Construction Site Supervisors

  268 Nursing Associates

  261 Taxation Technicians

  251 Network Engineers

  244 Business Analysts  

  222 Software Testers

  206 Retail Managers

  192 Quantity Surveying Technicians  

  188 Civil/Site Engineering Technicians

  184 Cyber Security Technologists

  180 Commercial Procurement & Supply Practitioners

  168 Public Relations & Communications Assistants

  164 Children/Youth/Family Practitioners

  158 Government Policy Officers

  154 Building Services Engineering Technicians

  150 Buying & Merchandising Specialists

  142 Electrical/Electronic Engineering Technicians

  139 Technician Scientists

  129 Associate Ambulance Practitioners

  128 Investment Operations Specialists

  117 Insurance Professionals  

  109 Marketing Executives

    93 Regulatory Compliance Officers

    85 DevOps Engineers

    72 Junior Management Consultants

    68 Early Years Lead Practitioners

    67 Food Technology/Engineering/Production Technicians 

    67 Human Resources Consultants/Partners     

    64 Construction Design & Build Technicians

    55 Healthcare Science Associates (16 Audiology / Hearing Aid Dispensers, 14 Cardiorespiratory/Sleep Physiology, 12 Bio/Medical Engineering, 4 Speech Therapy, 2 Mammography, 2 Medical Physics, 2 MRI Radiography, 2 Phlebotomy, 1 Biochemistry)   

    53 Recruitment Resourcers/Consultants

    51 Financial Advisers / Paraplanners

    51 Mineral Products Technicians

    50 Quality Practitioners

    47 Healthcare Associate Practitioners (General)

    47 Nuclear Technicians

    41 Adult Social Care Lead Practitioners       

    34 Automotive Engineering/Propulsion Technicians

    34 Brewers 

    34 TV/Media Production Co-ordinators

    32 Actuarial Technicians

    32 Hospitality Managers

    29 Learning/Skills & Development Practitioners

    28 Journalists

    26 Ordnance Munitions & Explosives Technicians

    24 Business Improvement Specialists 

    24 Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Practitioners

    24 Dairy Technologists

    24 Internal Audit Practitioners

    23 Vehicle Damage Assessors  

    22 Automation & Control Engineers

    21 Estate Agency Negotiators

    21 Railway Engineering Technicians

    20 Operations Managers   

    18 Housing/Property/Lettings Officers

    16 Revenue & Welfare Benefits Officers    

    14 Countryside Rangers

    14 Fibre Cable Engineers

    14 Police Community Support Officers

    12 Broadcast & Media Systems Technicians

    12 Intelligence Analysts

    11 Logistics Specialists   

    10 Hygiene Specialists

      9 Digital Community Managers

      9 Naval Architects / Marine Engineering Technicians

      9 Railway/Passenger Transport Operations Managers

      8 Paralegals

      7 Employability Practitioners

      7 Post-Production Technical Operators (Film/TV)

      7 Specialist Sports Coaches (4 Football, 2 Gymnastics/Trampoline, 1 Tennis)

      6 Facilities Managers

      6 Game Developers

      6 Information Managers

      6 Land Referencers

      6 School Business Professionals     

      5 Acoustics Technicians

      5 Architectural Technicians

      5 Fire Safety Inspectors

      4 Conveyancing Technicians

      4 Counter Fraud Investigators

      4 Unified Communications Trouble Shooters

      3 Pensions Administrators

      3 Port Marine Operations Officers

      3 Rehabilitation Officers (Visual Impairment) 

      3 Senior Culinary Chefs

      3 Sports Development Officers   

      2 Building Information Modelling (BIM) Technicians

      2 Early Intervention Practitioners

      2 Fashion & Textiles Technicians

      2 Historic Site Advisers

      2 Tax Technology Technicians

      2 Town Planning Assistants 

      2 VFX Artists

      2 Water Recycling Engineers

      1 Arboriculturist

      1 Auctioneer

      1 Chaplain

      1 Chemical Process Technician

      1 Clinical Coder

      1 Community Energy Specialist

      1 Community Safety Officer (Antisocial Behaviour)

      1 Dental Technician

      1 Digital Accessibility Specialist

      1 Fitness Club Manager

      1 Fitness Instructor

      1 Horticultural / Landscape Design Practitioner

      1 Lighting Designer

      1 Market Research Executive

      1 Metrology Technician

      1 Payroll Assistant Manager

      1 Utilities Technician

      1 Wedding Accessories Designer

      1 Wedding Venue Co-ordinator

Going forward

I’ll be abroad for the next couple of weeks, but I intend to keep my eye on new vacancies and resume my reports after Easter. So do look out for a fully updated post that I’ll be publishing on or around 24th April – I can promise that it will show some very interesting new data.

I’m also taking the opportunity to give another mention to an unusual apprenticeship scheme that I discovered in the last couple of years through a past student at one of my schools and that’s now recruiting for 2022:

© Alan Bullock Careers, 20/3/2022

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