The Mean View: This should be the age of the apprentice

By Ian Mean

A new government and a new year.

Never before has there been so much interest in apprenticeships as young people and their parents are really getting to understand the stark reality of finishing university studies with debts of up to £50,000.

Our new government really needs to grasp the nettle on apprenticeships.

That’s my view after reading the Learning and Work Institute’s Youth Commission Report Fit for Purpose? Education and Employment Support for Young People which was published shortly before Christmas.

It says: “Apprenticeships are less prevalent than in other countries and the number for young people has fallen since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and other reforms.

“The new system does not encourage employers to focus on young people or reflect the costs of supporting those new to the labour market.

“In this way, it disincentives apprenticeships for young people.

“We need a higher ambition for education, skills and employment for young people so they can achieve their potential in work and life.”

Quite an indictment.

However, if our new government did something very obvious it would help our businesses – large and small – become far more apprenticeship-friendly.

The obvious is a back-to-basics explanation of the Apprenticeship Levy so that it is simplified and less complex.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to employers taking on apprentices is their concern that there will be 20 per cent of time “off the job”. In reality, this isn’t the case at all.

But here again, things are not joined up properly or communicated in a simple way that firms can take on board without facing what many of them see as a bureaucratic brick wall.

As a result, they often simply give up the ghost trying to navigate the apprenticeship maze.

But while urging the government to take a long hard look again at how apprenticeships are organised and funded through our further education colleges and degree apprenticeships at our universities, we need more companies stepping up to the plate.

A declining population, particularly here in Gloucestershire, means that we must do all we can to retain our young people in the county, and especially those who are disadvantaged.

In Gloucestershire, the performance of disadvantaged youngsters is something like 50 per cent worse than other parts of the country.

They must not be left on the employment scrapheap. Is this problem really on our politicians’ agenda? And companies just have to realise that the demographic axe continues to fall. We are running out of young people to be trained. There are trailblazing companies with apprentices at their heart but far too many are just not investing for the future.

Isn’t it amazing that something like 75 per cent of companies here in Gloucestershire spend less than £5,000 a year on staff training? Can you really believe it?

How can these companies hope to increase productivity when they don’t train their people properly? The productivity puzzle is simply down to people – having good people who have been trained and are enthusiastic about their jobs and their company.

And it really all starts with apprenticeships.

I hope our new government gets the message for 2020 when we are promised funding for 5,000 more new apprenticeship starts.

We simply must deliver for our young people and our economy.

We must ensure they get the skills they deserve to have a worthwhile career.