Andrea Leadsom is MP for South Northamptonshire.
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The state of the economy means many people are nervous about the future. This is especially true of young adults. Not only could they be saddled with the huge public debt they did nothing to create, but also job prospects are tough, particularly for those with no previous work experience. The latest figures show that youth unemployment that rose so fast under the last government remains depressingly high.
The Coalition is absolutely right to take tough decisions now to tackle the deficit. Anything else would be disastrous for Britain ’s economy and our prospects of recovery. But action is also essential at an individual level – young people must be given a chance. One of the best ways to do that is through apprenticeships.
I am delighted that the coalition is taking apprenticeships so seriously. In the last academic year almost 443,000 people started an apprenticeship in England and there has been an increase of around ten per cent in the number of apprentices under 19. Skills Minister John Hayes has said that all apprenticeships for under-19s must last for at least a year if employers are to receive training subsidies – this is not a tick-box exercise but a genuine effort to bring about change. It is money well spent too: it is estimated that every £1 of government money spent on apprenticeships generates up to £40 for the economy.
I decided to get directly involved in apprenticeships by recruiting one into my own office. Breon Finch came to me via ‘New Deal of the Mind’, which offers study towards an NVQ in Business Administration while completing an apprenticeship with a Member of Parliament. He has quickly become a valuable member of the team, in turn gaining valuable work experience.
Northamptonshire provides some excellent examples of best practice. Chris Barker, who manages Brackmills Industrial Estate in Northampton where there are 143 businesses employing 11,000 staff, acts as a facilitator between businesses and schools. He has hired an ‘Apprentice Ranger’ and good progress is being made towards meeting a target of 100 new apprentices this year. Northampton College, the Local Enterprise Partnership, the local Work Programme and Northampton Town Football Club are all part of the effort to give young people a chance.
Another organisation, 'Starting Off', which is based in Northampton, combines training with an employment agency for trainees and apprentices. Dale Willis, who runs it, says that although it may be easier for those with five or six GCSEs at grade C or above to get a job than it is for those without, someone who can take a motorbike apart and put it back together is going to be highly employable. His message is very much that a degree of tenacity and a willingness to work hard gets results.
There are some who question the work ethic of young people, but the experience of one Brackmills company, ACS, where all of their apprentices have been given a full time job, suggests it’s got to be a good thing. If we are serious about getting the 1 million ‘NEETS’ (not in employment, education or training) into the workplace, then apprenticeships have a big part to play.
This, then, is the real key point: apprenticeships are not second best, nor are they a convenient form of cheap labour. Those who undertake them can make a real contribution to an organisation’s success and gain a raft of skills in a proper role – skills which they can use to find a job elsewhere and make a start on a worthwhile career for themselves.