Schools and businesses must both play their part in reinforcing  apprenticeships, says Adrian Bailey MP

National Apprenticeship Week is an opportunity to underline the crucial role that apprenticeships play in the skills base of our country, to celebrate the achievements of many of our young people and to campaign for the changes needed to get more.

For too long, successive governments have paid lip service to the notion that apprenticeships are as important as higher education  — although this is not reflected in public attitudes or in the relentless concentration of our education service to get young people into university.

Apprenticeships must be clearly defined with courses closely monitored and accredited.”

The proportion of unskilled jobs will fall as the economy grows. Getting young people into apprenticeships is vital if we are to overcome this. Government investment is driving up numbers, but is it attracting the sort of highly motivated, able young people who will fill this skills gap?

After a nine-month inquiry into this issue, my committee has identified a number of measures that must be adopted if we are to succeed.

We must reinforce the ‘brand’. Apprenticeships must be clearly defined with courses closely monitored and accredited. They must command confidence and recognition of quality, and be recognised as a passport to a job.

It follows that schools and the careers service must recognise their potential too. Schools are judged by their ability to get exam results and university entrants. Who can blame teachers if they work to that agenda?

Advising a bright student to leave to take an apprenticeship deprives schools of potential talent and risks their position in academic league tables.

My committee met an apprentice who said he got no support from his school once he said that he wanted vocational training. Similarly I have had complaints from FE colleges that schools are dissuading young people into taking their courses. These could be isolated and unrepresentative examples, but I fear that they are not.

A constant complaint is that young people are not work ready. More work experience is one answer, but the government has removed the obligation on schools to provide this.”

If apprenticeships are to enjoy parity of esteem in the public eye, schools must in part be judged on their ability to get students into vocational training as well as HE. Only then will we get more rounded careers advice and teachers that understand the benefits of an apprenticeship.

Then there is the role of business. A constant complaint is that young people are not work ready. More work experience is one answer, but the government has removed the obligation on schools to provide this. The other is for enlightened businesses to engage with schools. Many blue chip companies already do this, but most small businesses that would benefit, do not. The British Glass Trade Association is pioneering initiatives to overcome this, likewise the Cast Metal Federation, but much more needs to be done.

National Apprenticeship Week provides an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate progress. It must also ram home the message that government, business and schools must work together to demonstrate that apprenticeships will provide fulfilment for the young, the skills needed for our economy and the maximum value for our investment in them.

Adrian Bailey MP is chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee

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This article was published in a special 16 page National Apprenticeship Week 2013 supplement (click on image below to download 15mb PDF