Apprentices get new NUS-backed pressure group

A new pressure group for apprentices has been launched by the National Union of Students (NUS).

The National Society for Apprentices was officially launched today — day two of National Apprenticeship Week.

The NUS said the aim of the new society was to champion the rights of apprentices and represent their views to government.

An NUS spokesperson told FE Week: “We have been working on developing a similar organisation for apprentices for a number of years and the society is open to all apprentices across the country, from any kind of provider, on any framework.”

She said the new organisation was needed because, “our research into apprentices and their identity indicates that apprentices sometimes see themselves primarily as apprentices, sometimes as workers and sometimes as students.”

“This was echoed during the Apprentice Conversation event last year, apprentices felt they should participate in NUS events but also have their own space to develop their own ideas,” she said.

Its interim leadership team will be made up of 15 senior figures from a range of organisations involved with apprenticeships — including the NUS, public services union Unison, Leeds City College Student Union, City & Guilds, and providers ACT Training and First4Skills. It is chaired by Dr Peter Lavender OBE, chair of the corporation of North Warwickshire and Hinckley College.

He said: “It’s humbling to think that there will be a new voice for almost a million apprentices across the UK. What the NUS has done is inspired; the team’s energy and imagination will do the rest. This is a voice we need if we are to improve productivity and business success. Without strong apprenticeship development we’ll have an impoverished skills strategy.”

Raechel Mattey, NUS vice president (union development), said: “We understand the importance of strong representation and having a voice to shape your environment.

“I’m delighted that we are setting up the society in National Apprenticeship Week. It’s the perfect way to celebrate apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy.

“For the first time ever, apprentices will have a voice and it’s high time we started to champion our apprentices by tackling exploitative practices within the industry and rooting out abuse where it exists.”

All providers that train apprentices will be invited to join the society. After they join, their apprentices will be entitled to apprentice extra discount cards, which were launched by the NUS in June 2012 but will now be managed by the society.

The National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) will promote the society and the discount card on its website.

David Hughes, chief executive of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said: “We strongly support the NUS and NAS in the launch of the National Society for Apprentices.

“The voice of apprentices is vital to making the new apprenticeship reforms work for individuals, employers and the whole economy.”

An Association of Employment and Learning Providers spokesperson said: “It’s important that we build on the channels of communication that organisations such as Unionlearn and the Education and Training Foundation already provide for learners.”

Lynne Sedgmore, chief executive of the 157 Group, said: “We have always believed that the learner voice should be a powerful force in the design, development and delivery of apprenticeships and this new initiative seems to be a positive step in the right direction.”

A permanent leadership team for the apprentice society is due to be chosen in the summer.

The Association of Colleges declined to comment.