Boosting brand confidence in apprenticeships can drive growth

Two co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships, Alan Mak and Catherine McKinnell, mark the publication of the group’s Annual Report which calls on schools, businesses and government to work together to promote apprenticeships as an attractive career path.  (This article was originally published on Politics Home).

We live in an increasingly competitive global environment, and in order to drive growth, we need a world class workforce.

Giving our young people the right skills to succeed in the future is central to achieving that goal as the government looks to boost Britain’s productivity levels which have long lagged behind the rest of the G7.

A university degree doesn’t suit everyone, and for the best part of a decade using apprenticeships to boost technical skills has been a flagship policy for all the three major political parties. This cross-party effort has seen the number of apprenticeships started, grow from 200,000 a year in 2006 to the current government plans to create three million by 2020.

Indeed, the major themes that ran across the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos at the general election included emphasis on retraining, increasing the diversity of apprentices and boosting the number of SMEs that take on apprentices.

While these aims are to be welcomed, the key to hitting the government’s target is promoting the brand confidence of apprenticeships – encouraging young people that it is a viable alternative to university or starting a job.

This is underscored in a number of recommendations published today in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships’ Annual Report.

Following a year of speaking to fellow parliamentarians, experts, apprentices and industry leaders we believe it is vital that a positive message is communicated about the benefits of apprenticeships. That process starts in schools and colleges, who need to provide better information on apprenticeships to school leavers.

For many high achievers, apprenticeships are not even considered. One Microsoft apprentice who spoke at the APPG, and is studying for a degree apprenticeship, described her time with the firm as an “incredible experience” but had wished her high school had given more information about opportunities that were available.

Right now, too many apprenticeships are found by luck rather than as a result of sound careers advice.

To help showcase these openings that are available around the country, the APPG earlier this year launched an Apprenticeship Fair Toolkit for MPs, building on a number of successful fairs that colleagues from all parties have established in recent years.

The aim is to get as many events as possible taking place in constituencies up and down the country, highlighting not only the benefits of apprenticeships but the diverse range of companies that can deliver them. Let’s not forget, SMEs are the lifeblood of our economy, and only by getting them involved with the apprenticeship programme will the government hit its target.

Equally, these fairs often attract older workers who are either looking for a new career or are unemployed. Apprenticeships need not be confined to just school leavers, especially as lifelong learning becomes more important in the next decade due a rise in automation threatening entire industries.

Most of all, our report shows the will on all sides of the political debate to place apprenticeships at the heart of the Britain’s technical education programme. We believe that apprenticeships can be one of the keys to unlocking our potential growth. But that will only happen if schools, businesses and government can better work together to promote apprenticeships as an attractive career path.

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