This week, the skills and apprenticeships minister Robert Halfon travelled the country, meeting apprentices and employers all over the UK. Here, he argues that apprenticeships are going from strength to strength

Why are we celebrating the tenth National Apprenticeship Week? Because we want to showcase the brilliant work employers and their apprentices have been doing.

This week doesn’t just showcase the very best apprentices around our country, but is also incredibly important in raising the prestige of apprenticeships and skills – vital if we are to really build an apprenticeships and skills nation.

NAW 2017 is unlike any other week. We are highlighting the best of the best and shining a light on some of the hardworking, aspirational apprentices and employers around the country. It is good that FE Week does so much to highlight the importance of apprenticeships. Transforming the prestige of apprenticeships must be done by all of us, whether in politics, the media, business and our communities.

What makes this NAW even more special is the wonderful announcements in the budget on technical education. It has really raised the profile of non-academic routes and gives a real chance for millions of young people to climb the ladder of opportunity to get the skills and jobs they need for their future.

Skills truly are at the heart of this budget. The announcements made by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, are the most ambitious post-16 reforms since the introduction of A-levels 70 years ago.

For too long there has been an underinvestment in skills in this country. I really welcome the commitment the chancellor has made to a £500 million investment every year to increase training for 16- to 19-year-olds. This will ensure technical education is on par with our world-leading higher education system and create two genuinely equal options.

Alongside this, the chancellor has confirmed the that maintenance loans will be made available to students on higher technical education courses at levels four to six in national colleges and institutes of technology. This puts technical routes on a real level footing with university. £40 million extra will also be invested in lifelong learning so we can develop pilot schemes to see what works best for learners.

We are working hard to make apprenticeships higher quality by putting employers in the driving seat so people can get their foot on the ladder of opportunity and get the skills they need to fulfil their true potential. Groups of employers have been coming together to create new high-quality apprenticeships. This means there will be the right workforce out there for employer’s needs.

Three million more apprenticeships by 2020 means three million more life-changing opportunities for people of all backgrounds and all ages around the country.

When I attended the National Apprenticeship Awards earlier this year, I was able to meet some extraordinary apprentices from the Get In Go Far campaign, and apprenticeship ambassadors as well. It really was a celebration of the best of the best, and I hope more employers and learners will be inspired by their stories.

We want to showcase the brilliant work employers and their apprentices have been doing.

During this week, I have been travelling round the country alongside the National Apprenticeship Service and meeting some more brilliant apprentices across many diverse fields of employment. From EDF Energy to Crossrail, Sunseeker to Premier Inn, this really has been a fantastic opportunity to hear some inspirational stories.

Along the way I have met some extremely inspirational young women who are working hard to achieve their potential – Josanna at Bridgwater College, who is working hard to become a luthier (someone who crafts string instruments) and at Poole, Ellie, who has risen the ranks at Premier Inn, completing her level three and soon to move on to a level four. Already at the age of just 23, she has become an operations manager.

As part of NAW this year, I have also spoken at a Westminster Hall debate about the importance of trying to make sure everyone who wants to is able to get into an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships work and that is a fact. The numbers speak for themselves – it is remarkable that 90 per cent of people that do apprenticeships go on to further work or additional education. This really is something to shout about.

We have been making considerable progress towards Britain becoming an apprenticeships and skills nation. Apprenticeship participation in England stands at nearly 900,000 – the highest figure on record.

It is also an important achievement that there have been 780,000 apprenticeships started in England since May 2015.

Apprenticeships really are one of the greatest success stories of the decade.

Through the new apprenticeship levy, £2.5 billion will be invested in apprenticeships by 2019-20, which is double the amount spent in 2010-11. With more money than ever, we will be helping people get into more and better-quality training schemes. Monies raised means that we can help finance small businesses so that they can get the apprenticeships they need to succeed. We also are doing everything possible to invest millions of pounds in ensuring that apprentices from all walks of life, whatever their background or disadvantage, have every possible chance to climb the ladder of opportunity. 

The levy will ensure a step change in apprenticeships numbers and quality giving employers the highly skilled workforce they have been crying out for.

We have come an extremely long way and April is going to be really significant for apprenticeships and our reforms. We will be seeing the apprenticeship levy come into force as well as the launch of the new and independently led Institute for Apprenticeships. The new register of apprenticeship training providers will be in place and trailblazers will continue to work tirelessly to ensure there is a quality apprenticeship out there in every industry.

I hope that NAW 2017 inspires more employers and people to do an apprentice. I congratulate every apprentice, every employer and every provider, whether FE or private for the work they are doing to ensure that millions of people can climb the ladder of opportunity.

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