Labour calls for 'radical overhaul' in apprenticeships

Gabriella Jozwiak
Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The government's skills policy needs a "radical overhaul", the shadow international trade minister has suggested.

Schools are teaming up with industry to inspire apprentices. Picture: Monkey Business/Adobe Stock
Schools are teaming up with industry to inspire apprentices. Picture: Monkey Business/Adobe Stock

Speaking during a parliamentary debate on apprenticeships, Judith Cummins said schools should work closely with local businesses and colleges to help young people access vocational skills for future employment.

In her constituency of Bradford South, secondary schools have recently collaborated with local manufacturers to help inspire careers in the sector.

Numbers of apprenticeship placements have fallen sharply since April 2017, when the government introduced an apprenticeship levy on employers - essentially a tax on those with an annual wage bill topping £3m.

Department for Education figures show the number of new apprenticeship starts was 24 per cent lower in 2017/18 than the year before.

Research published by the Local Government Association last week highlighted that by 2024 there would be more than four million too few high-skilled people to take up available jobs.

The MP described how the manufacturing industry in her constituency was set to suffer as a result of shortages in vocational skills training opportunities for young people.

Six per cent of 16- and 17-year-olds are classed as not in education, employment or training in Bradford - the same proportion as in England as a whole.

While 15 per cent of Bradford's working-age population has no qualifications compared with a UK average of eight per cent.

Cummins said the apprenticeship levy and the complexity of the apprenticeship system were major barriers to entry for small and medium-sized businesses.

"The government's approach needs more than just a little fine tuning," she said.

"We need a more radical overhaul of our skills policy to help places such as Bradford get the growth and prosperity we deserve.

"The government need to address the failure over decades to tackle persistent regional skills imbalances. We need a mechanism to support industries and individuals in areas that face economic decline and need help to adapt to the demands of the global economy."

Cummins explained that Bradford was tackling the problem locally by having hosted a manufacturing week in October 2018, where more than half of secondary schools collaborated with local manufacturers and business leaders to provide more than 3,000 first-hand manufacturing experiences for pupils.

Cummins also suggested industrial centres of excellence (ICE) were another way to encourage young people to enter apprenticeships or skills-based learning.

"ICE gives business a partnership vehicle with local schools, colleges and the University of Bradford to ensure that education and learning in Bradford meet the skills demands of businesses in the local and regional economy within given sector footprints, which opens up opportunities for our young people and improves social mobility," she said.

In May 2018, the government announced 16- to 24-year-old care leavers starting an apprenticeship would receive a £1,000 bursary payment

Preparations are under way for Bradford Manufacturing Week 2019.

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