At the start of National Apprenticeship Week there are a lot of positive messages about the growing number of trainees and businesses working with apprenticeships, but it is really important to strip it all back to the main point – without a skilled workforce we might as well all pack up and go home.An education system devoid of practical, workplace-based training will hold back the economy, see unemployment sky rocket and see all manner of businesses, from plumbers to car manufacturers and everything in between, go to the wall. The fact that apprenticeships need their own week is indicative of the lowly position they’ve held for decades in the eyes of young people, employers and most notably educationalists. In recent years things have changed and apprenticeships are now seen as a more valid alternative to classroom-only further and higher education, and businesses across a lot of sectors are trying their best to embrace apprentices within their workforce. However, here lies the conundrum. If more kids are keen to do apprenticeships and more businesses want to take them on, why were there only 440,000 new apprentices in the UK last year rather than a number going into the millions? Of course, the answer is simple, it’s all down to money. Yes, the economy is in better shape than it has been in a number of years and, according to December’s figures, more people are in work than ever before. However, it’ll be a common situation in firms up and down the country that growing head counts are to service the current increase in demand for services.
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The government has made great strides in supporting apprenticeships and David Cameron’s commitment that the next Conservative government will use welfare spending cuts to fund three million new apprenticeships is definitely a step towards what young people and employers need, but I am convinced that a fully-funded scheme is the most appropriate option to securing our future skilled workforce.
I’ll continue to push that message this week when skills minister Nick Boles visits Pimlico Plumbers on Tuesday to get his hands dirty in our workshop with our apprentices and when I attend the SME Made by Apprentices Reception at the House of Commons.
So this week, while we celebrate the achievements of apprentices, their employers and those that have campaigned for apprenticeships to not only be taken more seriously, but become a valid education-to-employment route, remember that we have only won a few battles.
To win the war we need apprenticeships to be at the core of the country’s workforce development. For young people, businesses and the economy, it’s imperative.
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