Opinion

Charlie Mullins: GCSE results highlight apprenticeship recognition, but the war continues

4 min read

24 August 2015

This year’s GCSE results day highlighted the fact that we may have won a battle in the struggle for more apprenticeships, but there’s still a long way to go before we win the war.

It’s taken long enough, but finally it’s commonly accepted that vocational training is a bloody good way to make something of yourself – just ask my recruitment department, they’ve been swamped with hundreds of applications from school leavers!

Without blowing my own trumpet too much, I’m a prime example, and there are many more. Lord Bamford, the chairman of JCB, Sir Terry Matthews, chairman of Mitel and former F1 team principle, Ross Brawn, to name a few – all former apprentices. I think you’d agree they’ve all done alright for themselves.

For far too long young people have been hoodwinked into believing that securing a university place was the Holy Grail, and a sure-fire way of walking into a well-paid job.

I’ve been arguing the opposite for a while now, but research from the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) which revealed that many graduates, a staggering 58.8 per cent to be exact, have ended up doing non-graduate jobs has surely shown what a load of rubbish that is.

If you’d have switched on the TV on Thursday morning, it was hard to miss the fact that the message has been received loud and clear; there has been a significant shift in the attitude of our school leavers. They’ve begun to see that there are options – like apprenticeships – other than university that will provide a more direct gateway to a career for life, which avoids racking up huge debts.

The interest in vocational learning and apprenticeships is an encouraging step in the right direction, however there is still a severe provision failure that must be addressed.

Read more from Charlie Mullins:

In the previous academic year 120,000 under 19s started an apprenticeship. Compare this with the 400,000 young people already accepted onto university courses this year and it’s clear to see that enough isn’t being done to support the growth of apprenticeships.

I’d take on upwards of 40 new tradesmen tomorrow if I hadn’t already dried up the supply of sufficiently skilled workers in the capital. I’ve even resorted to widening my search area to the North of the country, in the hope candidates would relocate. There just aren’t enough quality tradespeople to go around and this stems back to the historic lack of vocational training.

That’s why I’ve been calling for a fully-funded national apprenticeship scheme, which would rebalance the UK’s training provision and in due course, eliminate our skills gap. It would cut youth unemployment and get youngsters into a skilled career for life – it’s a no brainer but something we’re still yet to see brought in.

Following the appointment of Michelle Mone as the ‘startup tsar’ maybe it’s an appropriate time to give vocational learning the same attention and support. I say we bring in an apprenticeship tsar to shake it up – I’d be more than happy to throw my hat into the ring.

Charlie Mullins OBE is the archetypal entrepreneur having started his business from scratch and then building it into a multi-million pound enterprise. From humble beginnings growing up on an estate in South London, Charlie left school with no qualifications, but after a four year plumbing apprenticeship he started his own firm, Pimlico Plumbers, which now generates a turnover in excess of £25m and boasts many well-known names among its many clients.

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