I’m proud to be supporting the third #CollegesWeek, as part of the brilliant #LoveOurColleges campaign. Colleges are the beating heart of our community and it is clear that they will play a vital role in our post-Covid economic recovery.
Since taking up the role of Shadow Minister for Apprenticeships and Lifelong Learning in April, it has been wonderful to hear from college leaders and staff about the incredible work that colleges have been undertaking, particularly under such unprecedented challenges. Since the onset of Covid-19 and the damaging impact that the pandemic has had on the economy, the role of colleges has never been more important. Recent school leavers face the toughest jobs market in a generation, whilst many of those in work face redundancy or unemployment. Colleges will be essential to the development of both individuals and businesses.
I’m looking forward to making a socially-distanced visit to Chesterfield College this Friday after catching up with staff virtually throughout lockdown. Chesterfield College, like colleges throughout the country, perform sterling work, despite having a third of their funding cut over the last decade. Chesterfield College is one of the colleges that most embraced the government’s call to pursue Apprenticeship levy ‘business’ and so it is a particularly cruel irony that it is often those colleges who most followed government guidance that are those most exposed by the collapse in apprenticeship starts.
Colleges are about so much more than purely apprenticeships though. They have launched thousands of people towards career changes and offer life changing adult education, second chances, a more mature environment to do A Levels and should be a focal point for the direction of skills policy in our communities. It is vital that the government ensure that colleges have the tools that they need to do the job. With retraining and upskilling at the top of the political agenda, colleges will be central to ensuring that we come out of Covid-19 stronger.
Toby Perkins is Shadow Minister for Apprenticeships and Lifelong Learning and MP for Chesterfield