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Flexibility needed for future apprenticeships

16 February 2015

For some time now, apprenticeships have been an issue which all politicians want to talk about, with more and more places pledged each time a Conservative or Labour politician makes a speech. Today, Ed Miliband has raised the stakes again, and pledged a guaranteed apprenticeship for all school leavers who “get the grades” by 2020. Giving apprenticeships a higher profile in speeches such as today’s is welcome. They are a vital approach to building the skills and experience of our future workforce, whilst at the same time ensuring they are employed. The latter point is the key however. An apprenticeship is a job with training. For the politicians’ pledges to be fulfilled, the public and private sectors need to step up to offer more apprenticeships. But we can’t forget that apprenticeships aren’t the only option. Employers and colleges need to be given the flexibility to work together to meet the needs of their local area, by being able to develop programmes and qualifications – some of which might not be an apprenticeship. This not only benefits the business and the apprentice, but also the economy as a whole. Some employers are reticent about employing young people because they are concerned that the soft skills might be lacking. That’s why we suggest that as an alternative to apprenticeships for 16 to 24-year-olds, there needs to be a more comprehensive pre-apprenticeship system developed. This would replace the current traineeship system and provide young people with the soft skills and work experience that’s needed. Fundamentally, though, this issue comes down to making sure that young people are aware of the options available. Politicians of all colour can pledge any number of apprenticeships, but until the careers advice and education is improved at all levels, young people will not be made aware of the different routes available for them. That is why we believe there needs to be a careers hub in each local area, brought together by local enterprise partnerships and including others such as schools, colleges and Jobcentre Plus, to provide independent and impartial advice and guidance that is relevant to them. Politicians are welcome to keep talking about apprenticeships – this makes sure that it’s kept on the news agenda and in people’s minds – but at the same time, they can’t forget that there are other areas that need to be improved before they can make any pledge a reality.