Writing his first opinion piece as the new apprenticeships and skills minister, Robert Halfon sets out his case for “boosting social justice, economic productivity, and our country’s skills base”.

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.

One young man said to me that when looking for an apprenticeship, the nearest one was in Leeds – over 150 miles away.

Much of what I am passionate about stems from meeting people like that young man. It made me realise that if you want to get young people on the ladder of opportunity, you need to have more high quality apprenticeships in a range of careers. I saw that apprenticeships can transform the lives of those in my community and many others.

This is why, after I was elected, I was the first MP to hire a full-time parliamentary apprentice.

To be given the chance to be the apprenticeships and skills minister by the prime minister is a real opportunity to develop careers guidance, technical skills and apprenticeships.

It is important that FE Week and others keep up the scrutiny on this.

My belief comes from the need to boost social justice, economic productivity, and our country’s skills base. As the education secretary Justine Greening said, social mobility is “driving better and more opportunities for young people”.

So how are we going to make sure this happens?

First: the apprenticeship levy and our apprenticeship funding reforms are vital to making a difference.

We cannot treat apprenticeships in isolation as a way to solve the skills gap. This is why we are building our apprenticeship programme alongside improving careers guidance in schools, boosting the quality of our FE colleges and ensuring we build the clearest paths for technical and vocational education.

Second: The apprenticeship levy is about driving up investment in apprenticeships, with the largest employers taking on the biggest responsibility. By levying the top two per cent of employers, £2.5 billion will be invested in apprenticeships by 2019-20 –  that’s double the amount spent in 2010-11. So with more money than ever, we will be able to boost apprenticeship funding and create more opportunities for everyone.

Of course, I understand that some organisations want to delay or scrap the levy. Yet any delay would mean holding back millions of opportunities for people and businesses to gain the skills they need. This is why the levy will be coming in next year. I welcome feedback from the sector as it is essential to have good robust discussion and they play a critical part in the development of the funding reforms.

These reforms are not about cuts – but about ensuring that employers invest more in apprenticeships and take more control.

Remember, the government will be spending more on apprenticeships than
ever before.  

Third: While FE Week has highlighted some frameworks will be losing some funding, there are some that will have increased funding, and not just in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Crucially, standards will receive more money than frameworks and that is one of the reasons why we are encouraging providers and employers to move to standards. The complaint about framework funding assumes the apprenticeship system will carry on as before.

We cannot treat apprenticeships in isolation as a way to solve the skills gap

Over the last few years, independent reviews of the English apprenticeship system have told us we need to flip the funding model on its head and give employers more control. So, by giving employers the power to choose what training their apprentices receive and allowing them to develop training, we can ensure apprenticeships will respond to what the labour market needs as well as reversing the trend of employers investing less in skills.

At the moment we have a very complex system. Currently, for apprenticeship frameworks we calculate how much we pay a provider by a series of calculations based on factors such as age, location of the provider and the address of the apprentice. The result is that two individuals of a similar age, doing exactly the same apprenticeship but living a few miles apart can attract vastly different levels of public funding.  

That’s why we have proposed a much simpler system with a single maximum funding band limit for each apprenticeship.

This builds on the approach we have already introduced for Trailblazer apprenticeship standards. Providers will have to adjust, but overall, there is more money going into the system, and there will be more money on average per apprenticeship.

We are committed to ensuring that young people get their first step on the career ladder. We know that some learners do cost more to support and prepare for the workplace, and that providers do good work to reach out to young people and promote apprenticeships.

For this reason the government will give providers and employers an extra £1,000 each when they train an apprentice aged between 16 and 18, and between 19 and 24, if they have been in care or have a Local Authority Education and Care plan.   

We are keen to hear from employers and those working within the sector to get this right. I have invited feedback on whether this is the right amount, so we can understand more about how providers currently use the extra money government pays them for younger apprentices.  

It is important that FE Week and others keep up the scrutiny on this. We have asked over a thousand employers, providers and the sector for their views.

If we can build an apprentice nation, we can reach three million quality apprentices, transform our skills base and, as a result, change the future for young people. The levy will be the change maker that this country needs.