By Robert Halfon MP
John Hayes’ article on apprenticeships on Conservative Home yesterday set in train a remarkable transformation on our attitudes to young people. For a number of years now – particularly under the last Labour Government – the whole thrust has been ‘university, university, university’. The idea of becoming an apprentice, gradually decayed, until it became less and less important as time went on. But not every young person wanted to go to university education, and some preferred vocational training as a means to find work.
To be fair, Labour did spend millions on various schemes – like Train to Gain for example. However, the results were patchy and over one million young people across the country were not in work or training by the time the Government left office.
Under Labour, the problem got worse and worse:
John Hayes is right that transforming apprenticeships is not just about economic efficiency. It is about social justice as well. If you give young people real opportunities of skills and trainings, you get them off the street, give them stability and a real chance of a job for the future.
That is why I took on the first ever MP Apprentice, Andy Huckle, who will gain a Level 3 at the end of his year with me and Harlow College.
But, we need to do much more than just increasing the number of apprentices. We must increase the prestige also.
Since I have entered the House of Commons as MP for Harlow, I have been calling for the establishment of a Royal Society of Apprenticeships, rather like the Law Society or British Medical Association, with a social and professional network, similar to that provided by Universities. I have tabled this Commons Motion and brought it up on the floor of the Commons.
To ask why this is needed, raises a series of questions:
1) Why is it that if a student goes to University, he is often cited in his or her local newspaper, yet if a young person does an apprentice, no one hardly notices?
2) Why is that – according to EDGE (the skills network) - two-thirds of teachers regard their knowledge of apprenticeships as poor, and that just one in four teachers recommends apprenticeships over higher education?
3) Why is it that every other type of profession, has some kind of professional organisation to serve and support it?
A Royal Society would dramatically increase the prestige and culture around apprenticeships and could mark a real change to how apprenticeships are viewed.
As Mr Hayes states:
“But there is beauty, too, in the economy and certainty of movement of a master craftsman. I believe that both kinds of beauty must be recognised. And that implies not that the stock of academe must fall but that the stock of craft must rise. Proper recognition of craftsmen across sectors will not only offer the emblems of achievement to individuals but also provide business with important commercial advantages. Firms that invest in training deserve recognition and will be able to use the achievements gained by their staff as marketing tools.”
To this end, today, every major apprenticeship-related organisation in the country will be meeting with me in the House of Commons, to try and make this happen. From Worshipful Livery Companies, to EDGE, to the Association of Colleges, to UK Skills, to the NUS, and many others too. The purpose is simple. Each organisation, representing different parts of the apprenticeship framework, will provide the jigsaw to make a possible the establishment of a Royal Society of Apprentices.
We know that we have the Minister’s backing. We have the support from all the major apprenticeship organisations. All we need now is the blessing of a higher authority.