One of the most important initiatives by this Government has been the promotion of work-based learning in the form of traineeships and apprenticeships.
I went into politics because I believe in a society where every child, no matter what their background, is able to get on in life. And if appropriate to the child, this means having the opportunity to join the world of work to help build the stronger economy we so desperately need. But for many young people, the most common pathway to work: GCSE’s, then perhaps A-levels, then university, then try to get a job only to be told you don’t have enough work experience, just isn’t working.
‘It’s boring’. ‘I’m not good at exams’. ‘What’s the point in learning this’; teenage laments I am familiar with as a physics teacher.
But the fact is: they have a point! Why shouldn’t learning be fun, experiential, and purposeful?
One answer lies in traineeships and apprenticeships.
Not a new concept, granted. But one that in recent decades, largely driven by an obsession by successive governments to increase university participation, had fallen out of favour.
But no more. Driven by Lib Dems in government, the tide is turning. Since 2010 over 1.5m new apprenticeships have been created across the country.
I’m especially proud of how we are doing locally. In Oxford West and Abingdon we’ve already created more than 1,500 new apprenticeships since 2010. And I have been running a campaign to double this by 2015.
The most important challenge in achieving this increase is to encourage students to embark on them. But equally important is to ensure parents realise just how valuable apprenticeships are.
Over the last year, I’ve been visiting businesses and training centres across the area to see apprenticeships in action.
The word I would use to describe each of the young people I’ve met is: happy.
Repeatedly they describe how school didn’t excite them and how successful they now feel.
Many get a job at the end of the programme and all have learned more than content. They have acquired skills like teamwork, time-keeping and presentation skills, and so have also improved their employability.
Traineeships and apprenticeships are available not just in industries like catering and hairdressing. High-tech businesses also offer level 3 and 4 apprenticeships in engineering for example, and these can lead to a university degree.
‘By the time I am 25’, one young man at Culham told me last week, ‘I’ll be at the same level as my friends who went to uni straight away. But I will have more years of networking and work experience under my belt’. It’s worth saying he had a university place, but decided the apprenticeship was more worthwhile.
For businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, a perceived barrier is the cost of taking on apprentices. Financial help from the Government is available.
But crucially it has to work for the business too. And it does. Many businesses I have spoken to say apprentices start to pay for themselves within a few months.
If anyone, parent, student or business, is interested in finding out more, I recommend looking up Oxfordshire Apprenticeships or the Oxfordshire Skills Board.
Youth unemployment and the growing skills gap in our economy are two of the most pressing issues of our time. There is a groundswell of support for traineeships and apprenticeships as people recognise they make a such positive difference to both our economy and our community.
I am passionate about these programmes and am committed to increasing their profile and number across Oxfordshire. I hope you can now see why.