Confusion: can furloughed staff continue with apprenticeships and professional development?


“It is very likely I will be furloughed this week. I am worried about my apprenticeship course and if I can continue?” This is a question we have, understandably, been hearing a lot over the last week or so. A British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) poll of its members revealed that nearly half (44 per cent) of businesses are furloughing around half their workforce in response to the crisis. Such conversations are a reminder of the value employees place on developing their knowledge and enhancing their skillset.

The good news for learners is that, yes, apprenticeships can, and should, continue while employees are furloughed. Detailed guidance for apprentices, employers and training providers has been released by the Government, who is encouraging furloughed employees to undertake training. The guidance adds, “High-quality apprenticeships will be a vital contributor to the economic recovery that will follow the pandemic.”

With career development opportunities now an established feature on ‘top employee motivators’ lists, it’s no wonder 72 per cent of market leaders use talent development as a recruitment strategy*. Right now, we are all experiencing unprecedented levels of upheaval and uncertainty, and it seems for so many employees that taking control of our own personal development is the right thing to do.

The value of learning and personal development during furlough and prolonged homeworking

For employees, there are tangible benefits in undertaking training courses and investing in personal development at this time.

In the majority of cases, our learners anticipate that their unexpected time away from the business will actually give them time to focus on their learning, make faster than usual progress as they work through course material, and – perhaps most importantly, give them a much needed sense of structure and purpose.

We are also hearing from some learners who, while still working, simply can’t do the same type of work at home as they would in the workplace. The risks for employers in such situations is that the employees feel ‘lost’ and disconnected. By providing them with relevant and interesting self-development opportunities, they are helping them to maximise downtime, while also making a valuable contribution towards their employees’ mental health and wellbeing.

It’s worth mentioning that employees can also  start  a  new  apprenticeship  programme  if they are furloughed. This will enable members of staff on a temporary leave of absence to benefit from training whilst they are out of the workplace. Not only will this permit employees to use this unexpected time away from the business to learn new skills, it will also help to  boost engagement and, importantly,  offer a  sense belonging and connection with the workplace they are temporarily leaving.

The furlough process is, for most, unchartered territory. We anticipate that some of the workforce may dip in and out of furlough to meet changing business needs. For those employees, the golden thread of relevant personal development could prove highly valuable.

For employers, the benefits of continued learning are also considerable. The looming skills shortage won’t have gone away when the world starts its post Covid-19 recovery. Indeed, the BCC reported that for the last quarter of 2019, nearly three-quarters of businesses faced difficulties in finding the right talent. Combine that with the current crisis and it’s predicted that existing employees’ enhanced business-critical skills, such as leadership and technology, will be even more sought after as organisations depend on this talent in the effort to rebuild.

Much has been said around how, when this is all over, companies will be judged on how they treated their employees during the crisis. This aligns with what we’re hearing from L&D teams and clients who are looking for ways to support, engage and care for their staff during this chaotic period.

“Navigating current challenges will require practical management skills, emotional intelligence and personal insight. Leadership and management is  ultimately about people. Managers will need to understand and respond to the emotional and psychological needs of those they manage in a way they have not seen before.” James Kelly, Co-Founder,  Corndel



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