Notes from the party conference
With the party conference season in full swing, both Labour and the Conservatives have made significant commitments to apprenticeships as part of their pre-election pledges.
The Conservatives have said that they will cap benefits to fund three million apprenticeships. Labour have said that they will boost apprenticeship take-up until it matches the number going to university.
The fact remains however that while the Government invests in an apprentice’s training, it is employers who bear the costs of their employment. So have they done the maths right, and where will the increase in numbers come from?
Support for apprenticeships
Any government wanting to see a genuine growth in apprenticeship numbers will need to commit to supporting small businesses to take them on. This is where the growth potential lies, as we know from our work with the creative and cultural industries.
...it’s helpful that politicians are experiencing what it’s like to take on an apprentice...
But this type of business needs support, especially if it’s the first time they’ve done it, and we need Government to guarantee that the right kind of support will be available.
I was only hovering around the fringes this year, but it was reassuring to hear our new Skills Minister, Nick Boles, say that he hates the skills jargon and proliferation of acronyms that come with the brief. He is clearly passionately committed to the apprenticeship cause and making skills and training as accessible as possible for employers.
He will be taking on an apprentice himself in his office thanks to our friends at The Creative Society, who run the Parliamentary Academy - a resource for MPs who wish to employ young people responsibly, rather than as unpaid interns. I think it’s deeply helpful that politicians are experiencing what it’s like to take on an apprentice, so that they can see how the system works from an employer’s perspective.
Qualifications for specialists
I also enjoyed hearing David Willetts cite stone masons and the example of heritage craft as a reason why we need to think differently about the reform of vocational qualifications.
There will always be niche qualifications designed for specialists which have served a particular industry for hundreds of years. That's why you can't cut the number of vocational qualifications simply on the basis of take-up. You have to look at them differently: at quality, and at responsiveness to industry need.
I don't think any Government has got that measure quite right yet in the urge to streamline and simplify.
Countdown to the 2015 Election
So what else will we hear on this front in the run-up to next May? If an MP is spouting forth on the subject of apprenticeships, they'd better be employing one themselves.
We will wait to hear what initiatives the politicians have in store that might benefit the skills needs of the creative and cultural industries with bated breath.