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New Apprenticeships Incentives launch in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

New Apprenticeships Incentives launch in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published By: Jessica Morrison

How local businesses across Northern Ireland can take advantage of up to £3,700 in incentives for supporting the ApprenticeshipNI Programme in their workplace.  

On 23rd March 2020 when the country was placed into lockdown following a global outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), we had little idea what this would mean for the time that followed. All it seemed we could do was watch from the sidelines as the wave of cases spread across to the UK and Ireland, thus resulting in the lockdown and introducing us to a new vocabulary of “social distancing” “masks” and “quarantine”.

Restrictions on our movements became limited across the Spring/Summer months and suddenly it became frowned upon to visit nearby scenic spots. New rules meant the population went without seeing loved ones; some underwent phases of feeling anxious or we simply went through times of confusion when Working From Home:

This year, COVID-19 hit the economy in ways and rates we didn’t quite see coming; our independent businesses were forced to close, employers had to question “to furlough or not to furlough?” and redundancies looked to be at 2,000 in the last 3 months across the province (NISRA, 2020). As a result of COVID-19, 240,200 people (representing 30% of the workforce employees across Northern Ireland) were furloughed – this is a figure that reflects those in a variety of sectors those undergoing Apprenticeships. In fact, according to Economy Minister Diane Dodds up to 4,500 of apprentices / higher level apprentices in training were furloughed during the pandemic (Source); these are figures that has encouraged the need for funding to be secured and incentives to be introduced:

“- I am pleased to announce detail on three initiatives that will form the backbone of my Department’s Apprenticeship Recovery Package. I want to minimise apprenticeship job losses, maintain and grow the supply of apprenticeship opportunities and support apprentices who have been displaced and lost their apprenticeship.” – Diane Dodds, Dept for the Economy.

If you aren’t familiar with the process of an Apprenticeship, we spoke to one of our Business Development Executives (BDE); Alex English who covers our Larne and Carrickfergus sites, and got a brief overview:

“In terms of the learner, an Apprenticeship is the first bridge on young person's career ladder, it’s completely supported with full course-funding; equipping them to gain a vocational qualification in the sector of their interest and get relevant on-the-job (real life) training, as well as the opportunity to get earnings whilst they are learning(s)!”

For an eligible young person, residing in Northern Ireland an Apprenticeship can help them learn about what they like (or don’t like), it can open them up to the world of work at an earlier stage than other alternatives, for example going to University with no prior work experience.  To be eligible for the ApprenticeshipsNI Programme learners must be:

  • Aged 16-24 (exceptions apply to Engineering and I.T Sectors, due to skill shortages where there is no upper age limit)
  • Not in any other form of education or training
  • Working 21 hours or more per week*

*At Rutledge, our BDEs like Alex and Vanessa can assist with placing young people in employment due to our networks with companies. We regularly have live vacancies available, that are needing dedicated individuals, you can search our active Apprenticeships here.

Alex continues, “in terms of the company/employer, [an Apprenticeship] is a relevant, regulated and accredited way to ensure young/new staff members not only grasp company culture and function from day one but gain the (theoretical & practical) skills to contribute as an effective member of the team. Apprentices are more likely to be long-tenured employees as a result of the initial loyalty and responsibility shown to them.”


The Programme helps to provide skilled workers, ready for the future, which can benefit your company long-term. Apprenticeships can help to fill skill gaps and help source future company team leads and managers or up-skill those within. In the words of Sir Richard Branson “take care of your employees and they will take care of your clients for you." Furthermore, Apprenticeships are a proven way to:

  • Increase staff loyalty and retention – an Apprenticeship encourages employees to think of their job as a career and to stay with the company longer as it shows your existing member of staff that you see them as part of the workforce and you are willing to invest in their future;
  • Revitalise your company – Apprentices often bring a fresh approach to the workforce, opening doors for new talent and skills.


“An apprenticeship is the perfect way to up-skill or train employees to their full potential while gaining their qualifications. Less time spent in the classroom environment and more time spent on the job. Apprentices will gain a fully recognised qualification and gain real work experience.” – Vanessa Porter, our BDE for Magherafelt and Ballymena area.


The introduction of the new initiatives aims to help revive the Northern Ireland workforce, and be a support system to both the Apprentice and Employer. There are three new initiatives available for employers to take advantage of that Minister Diane Dodds announced early September. Two schemes are ongoing, and both open on November 1st 2020:

Apprenticeship Recovery Package (Return, Retain, Result Scheme) | Incentive of up to £3,700

This option is ideal as an employed route, for Apprentices who were previously on the programme and were made furloughed or redundant as a result of COVID.

As an employer you may be eligible of up to £3,700, if you have had to furlough an apprentice under the terms of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. To help return Apprentices Department for the Economy will provide incentive payments to employers in supporting the recovery stages:

  • Return - £500 per returned furloughed apprentice, payable for the first full month of paid Apprenticeship from 1 November 2020
  • Retain – maximum of £2,000: £500 per month for up to 4 months of paid Apprenticeship between 1 December until 31 March 2021
  • Result - £1,200 upon successful completion of the full framework of a returned furlough apprentice

The scheme is open to employers participating on the DFE-funded ApprenticeshipsNI scheme and returns their furloughed apprentices.

Employers must apply for the incentive; information for this has not yet been released. For updates and further information, please keep an eye on:


New Apprenticeship Incentive Scheme (Recruitment of new Apprentices) | Incentive of up to £3,000

Suitable as a non-employed route for apprentices, eligible candidates new to the ApprenticeshipsNI Programme and that are not in employment.

This scheme is open to all employers, big and small who support the recruitment of new apprentices to their business. As an employer you will be eligible of up to £3,000 for each new Apprenticeship opportunity created from 1st April 2020 to 31 March 2021.  This will apply to all new apprenticeship opportunities made and includes apprentices who have been made redundant:

  • Payment 1: £2,000 after 90 days retention
  • Payment 2: £1,000 after 200 days retention first employment

Employers must apply for the incentive here:

Further information can be found here:

Rutledge can help you source a great new member of your team, here are our key benefits of working with us to support your ApprenticeshipsNI journey:

  • We are in regular contact with dedicated candidates ready to work and start their careers with local employers
  • We know what we are doing – we have been in the training business for over 30 years
  • We work with all kinds of businesses, independent and larger scale companies
  • We have excellent tutors and support staff ready to help you and your Apprentice

Our BDE for our Belfast and Lisburn area; Erik Ellison describing his role and those we work with:


For further details on supporting an Apprentice or becoming one, please get in touch with one of our Business Development Executives:

Lurgan and Armagh - Ken Luke:

Carrickfergus and Larne - Alex English:

Magherafelt and Ballymena - Vanessa Porter:

Bangor and Downpatrick - Stephen Mowat:

Derry/Londonderry and Strabane - Michelle Doherty:

Enniskillen and Omagh - Kelly Donaldson:

Coleraine - Yvette Donnell:

Belfast and Lisburn  - Erik Ellison:

Alternatively, you can phone your local branch to discuss: please contact us


The third initiative that was announced is the Apprenticeship Challenge Fund (Supporting Innovative Companies), which opened in September and closes in the coming days for applicants.

I encourage all organisations with an interest in the Northern Ireland apprenticeship system to consider making an application to the Apprenticeship Challenge Fund. This is a unique opportunity to encourage the development of new, innovative apprenticeship models and pathways, and promote collaboration to increase employer confidence within the Northern Ireland apprenticeship system.” – Minister Diane Dodds