National Apprenticeship Week isn’t just a government thing. Labour’s shadow apprenticeships minister Gordon Marsden also got in on the action, and went on a great British tour of his own, as he explains below.

During National Apprenticeship Week we are rightly able to celebrate the thousands of individual successes from young beginners to older workers – and of the trainers, colleges and employers who inspire them.

This week I was delighted to speak to meet apprentices here in Parliament, across London, at Blackpool, in the engineering and motor industries, and at the new BAE Systems Academy near Preston.  I was regaled with stories of success and of the chances available to young people taking an apprenticeship. These success stories build on the vital achievement of the last Labour government in setting up the National Apprenticeship Service, introducing National Apprenticeship Week in 2008, and revitalising our apprenticeship programme.

But with every success comes concern. For apprentices to get the most of their experience and gain the skills employers need, the new Institute for Apprenticeships must have adequate capacity and resources. Are 80 employees and a paltry £8 million annual budget going to be enough to support the government’s desire for three million apprenticeship starts by 2020? Not to mention the extra workload when the Institute takes on responsibility for technical education from 2018/19.

Are 80 employees and an £8 million annual budget going to be enough to support three million apprenticeship starts by 2020?

How are they going to tackle continued concern from employers on what new routes include? At the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders reception on Monday, a host of employers expressed anxiety that new routes would not have the solid qualifications they require. We have issued warnings that government’s blinkered approach to reaching its three million target could be to the detriment of quality provision.

We are still waiting for the government to announce how it intends to tackle a careers IAG system, where apprenticeships are often seen as the poorer cousin of higher education. That is why I was delighted to see Lord Baker’s amendment to the TFE Bill, which will ensure schools have to give access to advice about apprenticeships, as well as fully supporting my colleague Nic Dakin’s 10-minute rule bill, which will allow businesses and FE providers to go into schools and let students know about opportunities available via apprenticeships.

It was great to speak at my colleague Kelvin Hopkins’ debate on financial support for apprentices. Too often we speak about apprenticeships but not enough about the individual apprentice. In the debate I raised issues around the financial benefits apprentices are excluded from and the negative effect this has on the social mobility and life chances of those from disadvantaged groups and areas.

It is crucial the government utilises traineeships as the key point of entry to get far more young people competitive at the starting gate for high quality apprenticeships. We’ve had warm words from the minister on their progress,s but he must get agreements with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury to make them financially attractive to would-be applicants, as well as employers, providers and colleges.

This week of course we’ve had confirmation of the chancellor’s changes in technical skills funding – welcome, if inflated, for their potential in expanding quality apprenticeships in their announcements. But the £500 million promised will only amount to £60 million in 2018-19, and won’t get anywhere near its full value until 2021/22 – after the next election – according to the Treasury’s own detailed figures.

Meanwhile a succession of reports, from the BIS select committee, the EEF and the IfS – indicate there is still widespread scepticism about whether government is doing enough to satisfy the crucial link between apprenticeships and industrial strategy, overcoming Whitehall silos and energising skills and training policy with a proper devolution process. It’s a big challenge for the IfA to address, coming in as lean as it is, with still no permanent chief executive, come April.


Gordon Marsden is shadow skills minister

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