Former minister calls for incentives for schools to promote apprenticeships

By Neil Puffett

| 03 October 2017

Schools should be incentivised to promote apprenticeships as a positive career option for young people, a former education minister has said.

Robert Halfon has said there needs to be a transformation in the way apprenticeships are viewed across the country. Picture: Crown copyright

Robert Halfon, who served as apprenticeships minister between July 2016 and June 2017, and now serves as chair of the education select committee, said there is an urgent need to transform how apprenticeships are viewed.

"Too often [an apprenticeship] is seen as something less, and the bias is towards traditional academic education in schools," said Halfon, who was taking a part in a panel debate on young people and future jobs at a fringe meeting at the annual Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

"We have to do something big in schools - they have to focus more on skills and apprentices in terms of career options, not just university and higher education.

"We can do that either by making it a serious measurement of how the school is doing or looking at the money that goes to schools and incentivising the school so that more young people are encouraged to do an apprenticeship.

"We have to transform the prestige and we'll only do that if children at schools know that apprenticeships are a serious option that are as good, if not better, than going to university." 

Halfon said he wants every single young person from the age of 16 to be able to access a high-quality technical apprenticeship if they so wish - from Level 2 right up to degree level.

"I would love more degree-level apprenticeships," he said.

"I think we should re-gear our whole university system to at least try to reach a target of at least 50 per cent of people being students doing degree apprenticeships."

"I have been all over the country in my former role as apprenticeships minister meeting thousands of apprentices whose lives have been transformed by the opportunities that doing an apprenticeship actually gives to people.

"You earn while you learn. You get an incredible skill - everything from automotive engineering to healthcare, to coding, to journalism, to law.

"There's no debt at the end because you don't have to take out a loan and 90 per cent of apprentices who complete their apprenticeship courses get a job or go on to further training afterwards. That's a pretty extraordinary figure."

Speaking at the same event, Emma Revie, chief executive of youth charity Ambition, said experts predict that by 2020, the skills required for the job market will change - with skills likely to be needed by then including complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, and cognitive flexibility.

However, she warned that the conditions that that need to be in place to be able to gain the skills of emotional intelligence, such as physical and mental safety, love and belonging, and esteem, are often a challenge for young people growing up in poverty or in the care system.

"Employment for the long-term for future generations will mean increasingly upskilling and diversifying into new areas," she said.

"That agility and the personal and social skills to be able to be successful in the workplace are going to be critical.

"For young people affected by multiple disadvantage, growing up in communities and families affected by poverty - this presents an even greater challenge than the current challenge of acquiring more traditional academic skills potentially.

"The thing that really gets to me is that the gap just keeps getting wider, and the hurdle and the bar to be cleared just keeps getting higher.

"It is critical that we are considering the whole young person and where they are going to be developing all of these skills, not just academic attainment, the personal and social skills that will allow them to thrive in the future workforce and bring our society forward."

Revie said Ambition is currently working with five local authorities on a long-term mentoring initiative over a five-year period for those most affected by multiple disadvantage.

"The focus of that programme is really on providing the support to develop those skills that will help them in terms of developing emotional intelligence and critical thinking in order to be able to thrive in the workplace of the future," she said.

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