THE MEAN VIEW: Come on Boris, get behind our apprentices

By Ian Mean
Ian Mean

Skills and apprenticeships are so vital in our post-Brexit economy.

You may remember the government trumpeting about creating three million apprentices by the end of the 2020 parliament.

Well, that’s a target which will be missed by a mile.

And on top of that, you have to question the government’s enthusiasm for skills and apprenticeships.

That’s because they have scrapped the role of the Apprenticeships and Skills Minister following the resignation of Anne Milton and the installation of Gavin Williamson as the new Secretary of State for Education.

So I would urge Boris Johnson to act now and realise that our young people and particularly our small and medium-sized enterprises, deserve a government minister to drive their interests.

Anne Milton, like me, was a former apprentice and I was impressed with her vision for young people when I interviewed her a few months ago. She told me then that whoever won the PM leadership contest, she “would hold their feet to the fire on making sure that further education gets the attention it deserves”.

That has not happened despite a vociferous campaign by further education colleges and some sterling leadership by one of our Conservative MPs, Richard Graham of Gloucester.

If Boris fails to appoint a special Apprentices and Skills Minister soon it will be short-changing business and students.

Many of our further education colleges delivering apprenticeships are on their knees financially.

And that is not helped by an Apprenticeship Levy system which, for the most part, is misunderstood by business and treated with disdain.

This must be cleaned up and quickly.

The apprenticeship levy pot for small companies – those SMEs which will be the key to better productivity in the UK and more tax for the Chancellor – is virtually empty.

And the sufferers are those struggling youngsters trying to get an Level 2 apprenticeship.

These are mostly young people who will never break any academic pots but with a good SME will develop and learn real skills in a trade.

The government must realise that ploughing more and more money into higher education as opposed to further education with the colleges is not working in the long term.

I am proud of being a former apprentice – joining a local newspaper at 17 in South London and then joining the Daily Mail in Manchester as a reporter at 23.

I think being an apprentice is a badge of honour and government must get back to some clear thinking to develop skilled young people for the new postBrexit world.



Ian Mean is Gloucestershire Director of Business West, and a former regional newspaper editor. He is an honorary vice-president of Gloucestershire College and has an honorary doctorate of philosophy from the University of Gloucestershire for supporting business in the county. Ian is also chairman of the Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust Organ Donation Committee and a board member of Gloucestershire’s Local Enterprise Partnership, championing small and medium-sized businesses.