The AELP does a remarkable job of bringing together an otherwise disparate group of providers.
It has created unity and delivered joined-up thinking in a sector that’s been battered and broken over the last few years — a sector that has been completely deprived of anything close to a long-term strategy from this government.
At their best, properly resourced and given room for long-term manoeuvre, those represented by the AELP are key to unlocking a bigger, better skilled economy, where the jobs are well paid and inequality is down.
How is this so? It’s simple. A successful economy requires a number of things, but above all else, it needs clear pathways to high level skills and for any skills gaps to be addressed.
The latter poses a serious problem for our nation — between 2011 and 2013, the number of job vacancies without qualified applicants in Britain rose from 91,000 to 146,000.
To address this, we must do two things. First off, it’s imperative that we encourage investment in training by employers, especially given the fact that such spending has fallen by £2.4bn since 2011.
Apprenticeships are often stuck in a rut and this exacerbates the harmful public perception that they’re a poor cousin to university degrees
According to the Social Market Foundation, in-work training that leads to a nationally recognized qualification gives a 10 per cent earning premium to employees, coupled with increased productivity and a reduced demand on tax credits.
Secondly, we need to transform the numbers embarking on a vocational path to higher level skills.
The last Labour government’s target of getting 50 per cent of young people into university was right and good, but now it’s time to focus on those who do not go to university — those who may not be academic in nature and who have been failed by a regressive Tory education policy.
These are the people who need apprenticeships, traineeships and opportunities to up-skill themselves in existing employment. It is not, however, simply about churning people through the system — the provision on offer has to be of the highest standard.
Let’s take apprenticeships for example. Under the Tories, apprenticeship starts have grown exponentially. We’ve seen the numbers rise from 457,200 in 2010/11 to 510,200 in 2013/14. On an Excel spreadsheet, these figures look delightful and the team at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills may well feel they have reason to celebrate.
Lift the lid, and you’ll find that of the 510,200 apprenticeship starts last year, just 9,800 of these were higher apprenticeships, ie those which lead to a level five or above qualification. That means a mere 1.92 per cent of those starting apprenticeships last year could reach anything near a degree-level qualification through their current training.
Learners are being failed by the government’s craving for numbers.
A German apprenticeship, typically lasting three years, involves at least one day a-week of classroom teaching and is rigorously assessed. This is replicated by only a few English apprenticeships — Jaguar Land Rover and Rolls Royce for example — but for the rest, there is no sense of ‘elevation’.
Apprenticeships are often stuck in a rut and this exacerbates the harmful public perception that they’re a poor cousin to university degrees.
Employers have spoken to me at length about their desires to create a loyal and skilled workforce, identifying apprenticeships and training as key to this. And, of course, those represented by the AELP – many of whom I look forward to meeting at the conference – are ready and rearing to provide the high quality training that will open the door to a better skilled, brighter Britain.
The annual conference of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers takes place on Monday, June 2 and on Tuesday at Hammersmith’s Novotel London West.
Among the scheduled speakers on day one is Employment Minister Esther McVey, and on day two is Shadow Skills Minister Liam Byrne.