Training to Win

Robert Halfon MP highlights the crucial role that apprenticeships can play in making the British economy both fairer and more productive.

The people’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) has set Government a great challenge. We have been asked to build a country that creates prosperity, spreads opportunity and gives people the chance of a better life – without constraints. The Conservative Government is approaching this challenge in a positive way, seizing this historic opportunity to build a stronger and fairer Britain. Our Prime Minister is setting out a programme that at its core is about ensuring everyone shares in the benefits of economic growth. We as a country must look forwards to the future and we must look outwards to the world. There are global opportunities out there, which every British person can access. To make this ambition a reality this Conservative Government will introduce reforms that will harness the great talents and desires people posses across Britain, by tackling the skills gap and low productivity.

Our desire to plug the skills gap is not only about growing the economy, it is equally motivated by ensuring that individuals from the lowest income background can climb the ladder of opportunity through accessing the best education and skills training. As the education secretary Justine Greening said, social mobility is “driving better and more opportunities for young people”. Helping young people make the leap from education to work is essential in helping them to achieve their potential.

One of the ways we will transform our skills base, and help everyone to have fulfilling and well rewarded careers, is by increasing the quantity and quality of apprenticeships. Apprentices are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds[1]. This why the government’s commitment to reaching 3 million apprenticeship starts in England by 2020 could have the biggest positive impact on social mobility for a generation[2].

My passion for apprenticeships and skills started before I was even elected, when I went to visit a charity in my constituency who were helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. During that visit I met many young people who were desperate to do an apprenticeship, but at the time, apprenticeships were few and far between. These were people who wanted to learn so they could have a better life, but could not find an opportunity to do so.

How are apprenticeships going to help people learn today the skills they need to succeed tomorrow?

Firstly we will raise the prestige of apprenticeships. Since the late 1960s, the prestige and culture of apprenticeships in our country has diminished. Apprenticeships came to be seen as something for ‘second class’ citizens, and technical schools were seen as only being suitable for those who were not academically gifted. This view is changing, but not quickly enough. I and my colleagues will tour the country to make sure that such opinions become the minority. We will establish an Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education which will help ensure the quality and reputation of apprenticeships and technical education is high.

Secondly, we will work closely with employers. Employers know the skills they need better than anyone else, which is why they are developing new apprenticeship standards. These new high quality standards describe the skills, knowledge and behaviours an apprentice needs to be a success. All apprentices will also need to pass a rigorous assessment. This will give employers more confidence that their apprentices can do the job, it will give the apprentices pride to know they have passed a tough hurdle, and it will show society that the apprentice route is as valuable as any other further education choice.

Thirdly, to ensure that the skills agenda is given the focus it deserves, the government plans to invest around £7 billion during 2016/17. This will mean that there is a place in education or training for every 16 to 19-year old who wants one. From April 2017, a UK-wide levy will help fund the increase in both the quantity and quality of apprenticeships. This is an investment in Britain’s future[3].

In addition to this, I believe it is the responsibility of both government and employers to ensure everyone has a basic level of English and Maths in the workplace. That’s why we’ve committed to providing an extra £471 to any employer and their provider to make sure they can deliver the time and support to apprentices so they can achieve these qualifications. It’s also essential that young people are aware of how to turn the skills they’re learning into a meaningful career, which is why careers guidance in schools is vital. It is now a legislative requirement that schools must give careers advice on apprenticeships and we’ve gone further to create the Careers & Enterprise Company, investing £90 million over the Parliament.

The best way to achieve a leading modern economy is by boosting social justice, economic productivity, and our country’s skills base. To achieve the government’s ambition of creating an economy where everyone shares the benefits of growth will be a challenge, but it is a challenge that me and my colleagues believe in and will work relentlessly to achieve.