A leading industry body is paying to keep them employed.

A leading automotive industry body is stepping in to protect the jobs of young apprentices during the coronavirus crisis. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Charitable Trust Fund has confirmed a £100,000 investment to help businesses hit by the pandemic to save apprenticeship jobs.

The scheme has been announced a month before the government ends the furlough scheme, replacing it with measures to support part-time work. However, with 59,000 young people in apprenticeships across the automotive sector, the SMMT Apprentice Support Programme is designed to cover all or part of the salaries of those at threat of redundancy from a small or medium-sized business.

According to the SMMT, apprentices “play a vital role” in the long-term growth of businesses, and investing in them will help ensure a “pipeline of top talent”. The organisation is now accepting applications for the scheme, with firms across the automotive supply chain eligible for a bailout.

“The UK Automotive industry is built on decades of craftsmanship, engineering excellence and innovation delivered by a highly skilled workforce – and its long-term recovery and growth will depend on retaining and developing this skills base,” said Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s chief executive. “That’s why it’s so important that we do everything possible to ensure that we don’t let young talent slip through our hands as we strive to overcome the current crisis. Today’s apprentices are tomorrow’s leaders, and this scheme will help protect their jobs now so that they can help drive our future success.”

Bentley Apprenticeship Program

Meanwhile Gareth Jones, chairman of the SMMT Charitable Trust Fund, said the plans would ensure the industry retains young talent.

“As a former technical apprentice myself I can only imagine the devastating impact of losing your apprenticeship, particularly if you are close to completing your qualification,” he said. “This timely and much needed initiative from the SMMT Charitable Trust Fund will provide critical and well targeted support to ensure we retain some fantastic talent and potential in our industry.”

At the same time, the SMMT has also confirmed a new Safe Harbour Scheme that’s also designed to protect jobs in the industry. The initiative will allow multiple companies to support critical suppliers without falling foul of anti-competition rules – a move the organisation hopes will stave off redundancies.

First Range Rover built under social distancing

So far this year, the SMMT says “at least” 14,000 jobs have been lost, and the organisation fears more will come if support is not provided. Hawes said the Safe Harbour Scheme might buy the industry time, but claimed the government needed to sort a free-trade deal with the EU to keep the sector competitive.

“With the UK automotive sector badly hit by the coronavirus crisis, thousands of jobs already lost and barely weeks left until a fundamental change of trading conditions with our largest market, the EU, the pressures on automotive businesses are immense,” he said.

“Inevitably, these pressures are going to take their toll on businesses, so the Safe Harbour Scheme has been created to help any suppliers in trouble. It should provide valuable breathing space as the sector restarts and business and consumer confidence recovers. Ultimately, however, the industry must maintain its competitiveness to grow and for that we still look to the Government to deliver an ambitious trade deal with the EU.”

Nissan LEAF production in Sunderland, UK