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11 November 2016

Apprenticeships should carry the same weight as Oxbridge degrees

The new Skills and Apprenticeships Minister, and the first MP to have an apprentice in parliament, encourages teachers and students to look at apprenticeships rather than university places

By Robert Halfon

I’ve been passionate about skills and technical education since before I was elected. I’ve met plenty of young people in my constituency of Harlow who wanted to do an apprenticeship but didn’t know how to get started. So, as Skills and Apprenticeships Minister I made it my responsibility to make sure everyone can get the skills they need for the job they want. Indeed, my first ever speech in the House of Commons urged teachers to encourage students to do apprenticeships rather than seeing university as their only choice. I was the first MP to take on a full time parliamentary apprentice and worked with The Creative Society on the Parliamentary Academy scheme, the first apprentice school in the UK.

But the job of giving people the skills and training they deserve to be able to get on in life is much broader than Parliament. For too long, we have lagged behind on skills and apprenticeships compared to other European countries. Our country spends just under half of the EU average on vocational training per employee. This isn’t good enough. I want to change the culture around apprenticeships, the perception of them and technical routes. I want to see those that do skills-based training and apprenticeships looked at in the same way as someone who went to Oxford 
or Cambridge.

Apprenticeships work, that’s a fact. We know that 90 per cent of apprentices go on to a job or further education. That’s why the reforms we are making to apprenticeships – and the levy on employers that have a pay bill of more than £3m – are so important. They will upskill the nation and give millions, including some of the most disadvantaged, a ladder of opportunity to high quality jobs. Through the levy, £2.5bn 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 helping people get into more and better quality training schemes.But we’re not stopping there.

I am committed to ensuring that, regardless of background, everyone in the UK has the opportunity to benefit from an apprenticeship – whether to take their first step on the career ladder or progress within their career. We’re investing £60m in supporting the training of apprentices from the poorest areas in the country as well as providing an additional £150 a month for providers who train an apprentice with learning or other disabilities to ensure social mobility for all. We have listened hard to all the feedback we have received to ensure people will learn the skills they need now and for the future. In order to help providers adapt to the new system, we are introducing an additional transitional cash payment for 2017-18 equal to 20 per cent of the funding band limit when they train a 16-18 year old on apprenticeship frameworks. This builds on our commitment to paying training providers £1,000 each when they take on a 16-18 year old, as well as the extra funding for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). I believe it is the responsibility of both government and employers to ensure everyone has a basic level of English and Maths in the workplace. That’s why we’ve committed to providing an extra £471 to any employer and their provider to make sure they can deliver the time and support to individuals so they can achieve these qualifications.

We are also working hard to ensure that apprenticeships are of the highest quality. A new, independent organisation is due to start operating next year to support our plan to create three million quality apprenticeships by 2020. The Institute for Apprenticeships will approve apprenticeship standards and ensure they are all of the highest quality. Its ultimate goal will be to give employers a stronger role in the leadership of the apprenticeship system, ensuring employees get the skills they need to succeed and get the best apprenticeships possible for the individual. 
Apprenticeships offer a ladder of opportunity for people to get the skills they need for a successful career and training providers like TUC UnionLearn, 3aaa and MiddletonMurray play a crucial role in this. This will be so important as it is their expertise and knowledge that will ensure quality training which fits the needs of an employer. To ensure higher quality apprenticeships, the government has also introduced a new register of apprenticeship training providers. All providers on the register will have to pass quality and financial tests. Those with an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating for apprenticeship provision will not be eligible to apply to the register.

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Beyond apprenticeships, we need to make sure that careers information, education, advice, mentoring and guidance is an essential part in our investment in the nation’s skills. The Careers & Enterprise Company is integral to this. Funded by the government, it will be a key player in boosting social mobility and helping thousands into the world of work. I wanted to see first-hand how good careers advice is vital in helping people make informed decisions about their future. I was impressed by what I saw at colleges, businesses and schools in Durham, Blackpool and Cambridge when I visited them. 
We’ve also been working hard to ensure that people can make the right choices for them. For example, at the moment 33 different qualifications in plumbing are available, and there is no real way for someone to find out which is best for them. We will make sure that this changes. Under the Skills plan, we will make sure that the routes to technical competence, and to real jobs, are much clearer and easier for young people and adults wanting to move on in their careers. 

We also want to make sure that it’s possible to move between academic and technical options, so that students have the opportunity to find out what works for them before going on to secure good quality jobs. We will be working with employers, colleges and universities to develop a system that works for everyone. Our Apprenticeships, Technical and Further Education reforms will provide the boost we need to make Britain a world leader in a new skills-based global economy.

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