National Apprenticeship Week 2014 is a time to celebrate the huge steps forward for apprenticeships in our city, county and nation and to encourage teenagers looking at their future to come to the Glos Coll hosted SkillsFest on Friday. There’ll be lots of opportunities for them to consider in world beating manufacturing, strong local service businesses and public administration.
And it’s also a time for two further national changes that will make a difference.
In 2013-2014 over 1,400 new apprentices started in Gloucester. That is three times the number who started in Labour’s last year, only 4 years ago. The size and scope of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), the amount of funding, the numbers of new courses, new sectors and new businesses for apprentices, as well as the number of Higher Apprenticeships, have all increased dramatically.
The status of and recognition for apprentices has also changed hugely. When I took on an apprentice in Business Admin in 2011 people looked at me in amazement. Now any small business that has NOT got an apprentice has to ask itself ‘what am I missing out on?’
The focus so far has rightly been on 16-24 year olds – youth unemployment has been a major issue. But as that comes down – and youth unemployment dropped a remarkable 45% in Gloucester during 2013 – I believe we need to offer opportunities for the over 24s as well.
Some people take longer to work out what they want to do and are good at. But when they reach that point, they can be amongst the most motivated people in any business or organisation. True they will cost the employer more: but the drop out rate is lower. And the current system – where over 24s can get a loan (like university students) – isn’t proving attractive enough to attract candidates. So this year I hope the government will be bold and fund training for the Over 24s in the same way as the Under 24s.
And I also believe it’s time to change the structure of funding. Currently the money goes to the organisations who provide the training: but it should go to those who create the opportunities – the employers. They will then be in a position to choose the training organisation, rather than the other way round.
So this National Apprenticeship Week let’s see funding to train the Over 24s and training funding go direct to employers. Both changes would boost apprenticeships, by widening the pool of eligibility and by putting employers in the driving seat.
I hope that ministers are bold enough to go for these changes, and if so that civil servants implement and communicate them efficiently. Let’s make NAW2014 an even greater success than NAW2013, both locally and nationally.