Cameron's 3m target was always a pipe dream. The key is to focus on quality—not numbersby Robert Halfon / July 18, 2019 / Leave a comment
Brexit continues to dominate our politics, but the reality is that as a country we will be defined by how we face up to a series of other generational challenges. Sluggish wage growth persists in western economies; missions to deliver social justice and tackle the UK’s productivity problem remain unfulfilled. Meanwhile the march of the robots and the development of automation and AI will test our readiness for the future world of work—and our ability to remain globally competitive.
Apprenticeships should be a key component of an effective response to these challenges. While progress has been made in boosting work-based learning in recent years, we need the government to press ahead to ensure vocational education is at the forefront of our investment and policy priorities.
To capitalise on the opportunities of leaving the EU and to compete on the world stage, it is vital that we ramp up the delivery of high-level apprenticeships and in-work training. The focus should not be on pure numbers. David Cameron’s target of three million people starting apprenticeships by 2020 was always a pipe dream. While it’s essential to redouble efforts to encourage more vocational education, the prime driver must be an unerring focus on quality.
Apprenticeships can play a vital role in ensuring British businesses are able to draw on a workforce with the skills to succeed. In the past, too many businesses have preferred to hire workers from overseas rather than invest in training here. That needs to change. We can make it work by rocket-boosting vocational training in the UK.
A culture shift is needed. Philip Augar was on the money in his recent review of post-18 education when he highlighted the disparity that currently exists in the system. University education holds privileged sway while the further education and skills sector too often suffers neglect.
The fact is that while nearly half of young people go to university, many come out with skills the job market simply doesn’t need. Many don’t end up in graduate jobs, just saddled with expensive debt while the public purse picks up much of the cost. It would be far better if more young people went into degree-level apprenticeships. They can earn while they learn, and come out with little debt and with skills that employers genuinely want.
In the past, apprenticeships…