There is a growing groundswell of people who now agree that apprenticeships are the key to solving the UK’s skills crisis. The challenge now is to ensure that the quality of vocational training is consistent across the board and meets the requirements of employers – through initiatives such as the Apprenticeship Levy. I have been campaigning for a number of years, including talking to politicians of the highest level, to raise the standing of apprenticeships in the skills and education mix. Many others, in and outside of the worlds of business and politics, share this view and our voices have been heard in the halls of Westminster. While the government has fallen short of implementing my proposal for a fully-funded, national apprenticeship scheme, it did make a promise to get three million young people into apprenticeships by 2020 – introduced by David Cameron and a key target for our current premier, Theresa May. The government also introduced the Apprenticeship Levy, which is set to come into play next year. There is still some debate over whether the turbulence caused by the EU referendum vote should lead to the scheme being delayed, as are the concerns over the lack of knowledge regarding the levy from some businesses. A survey carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce discovered that four out of ten businesses have no understanding or have not heard of the levy, which is quite worrying. What’s not in doubt is the importance of the Apprenticeship Levy. Big business has complained that it’s another tax on them, but it’s essential if we are to have enough skilled people to meet the needs of employers. The funds these big firms will put into the levy pot is the equivalent of what happened in early 20th century industries, such as shipbuilding, where companies took on more apprentices than they had jobs, because each knew the extra ones would be snapped up by local companies, usually in its own supply chain, once they had completed their training. This altruistic approach has, in the 21st century, been transformed into an inevitable necessity due to the low levels of vocational training in recent decades. But now the government has taken the issue by the scruff of the neck, we need to make sure that whatever training is delivered is of a consistent standard and meets the needs of employers. Two recent reports by the IPPR and Policy Exchange have added to the concern that quality is being overlooked in the rush to create more chances for young people to gain skills while they earn. Young people need to be confident that the quality of training they receive is of the same standard, whatever provider or employer they secure their apprenticeship with.
Even though the Apprenticeship Levy is designed to help create more apprenticeships in smaller firms, without confidence in the system, young people will be naturally attracted to schemes offered by big, well-known companies, even if their offering isn’t up to scratch. Just having more apprenticeship-trained young people can be just as detrimental to employers, the economy and the apprentices’ prospects than not having any at all, if the standard of training just isn’t good enough. It doesn’t matter if the apprenticeship is offered by Rolls Royce, Pimlico Plumbers or Joe Bloggs decorators, if the standard and structure of the training isn’t identical then the system will fail. That’s why my fully-funded, national scheme would solve this issue. By creating a single framework, it would ensure apprentices would receive the best quality training across the board, wherever they work, and ensure that businesses can remain competitive and contribute to the future prosperity of the country.
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