Opinion

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I hate to say it, but I told you so. No, I take great pride in saying it – working towards an apprenticeship is better than studying for a mediocre degree.

"Government officials are listening and are helping to create more apprenticeships because they understand the value of vocational skills"

That’s also the view of the charity The Sutton Trust, which revealed that school-leavers who have the grades to get into an average university may be financially better off taking up an apprenticeship.

To be honest, I could have saved The Sutton Trust a lot of time and effort by telling it that in clear and simple language. However, it’s always nice to have your opinion backed up by figures from a respected charity. 

The Sutton Trust's research also found that young people who carried out high quality apprenticeships earned more on average than those that went to so-called "non-elite" universities.

The charity’s report worked out that young people who studied for a level 5 apprenticeship would earn £1.44m over their lifetime. That’s around £50,000 more than a student who goes to a university not part of the elite Russell Group.

Now that’s a fact that should make every future school-leaver and their parents sit up and take notice! It’s the kind of statistic that can help tip the balance in favour of apprenticeships, which, unfairly, played catch up for too long.

Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, hit the nail on the head when he said the culture of apprenticeships needs to be addressed because degrees are seen as gold standard while vocational qualifications are second best or a fall-back option.

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However, if this country is to become more productive and more competitive, we need to ensure our young people have better hands-on skills. It doesn’t matter if it’s plumbing in a toilet or wiring a space satellite, practical experience over lecture theatre-based study should be the first choice every time. 

That means raising the value of apprenticeships among young people, parents and businesses. If more employers held apprenticeships in the kind of esteem many do degrees then we can intensify the pressure on the education system, and those that run it, to enhance the standing of apprenticeships.

I honestly believe government officials are listening and are helping to create more apprenticeships because they understand the value vocational skills can bring to the country’s economic prosperity and ensuring sustainable levels of employment.

Last week Pimlico Plumbers took a stand in the exhibition area at the Conservative Party Conference to highlight the benefits of apprentices to businesses and also continue my drive for a national, centrally-funded apprenticeship programme.

As well as solving youth unemployment and using Job Seeker’s Allowance in a more productive way, my scheme would also elevate the standing of apprenticeships.

We were lucky enough to welcome some very high profile people to our stand, including chancellor George Osborne, home secretary Theresa May and the secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith. 

We were also visited by the top people from the Department of Business, Innovation, Skills, namely the secretary of state, Sajid Javid, business minister Anna Soubry and skills minister Nick Boles, who are all advocates of the quality apprenticeships. It gave us a good opportunity to speak to Boles about his proposal to get apprentices to sign contracts requiring them to deliver careers advice

We’re right behind him on this one as there’s no better way for school kids to find out about vocational training than from the mouths of the apprentices themselves. 

It’ll also do the apprentices the world of good too. Public speaking is a skill and whether it’s addressing one customer or a room full students or business people, it’s an ability they should always have in their tool box!

If they can spread the word in schools and businesses and government continue to fly the flag for apprenticeships as a valid and, as The Sutton Trust has shown, a more financially-rewarding route to a career, then perhaps we might just see apprenticeships achieve the stature that is so richly deserved.

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