IMI asks: ‘Is anyone addressing UK’s employment and skills challenges?’

Steve Nash, CEO of the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) comments on the manifestos of the main political parties: “It’s tremendously encouraging to see that every political party is making a commitment to the concept of apprenticeships. But we do have a concern about whether the real thinking has been done behind the promises. The ‘competition’ between parties on apprenticeships, is serious and has the potential to damage the brand of ‘apprenticeships’. Particularly as there are some glaring errors that demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding about what apprenticeships actually are – and what role they can play in tackling both the employment and skills challenges of the UK.”

“For example, sadly whoever advised the Labour and UKIP parties have not given them a clear enough understanding of what apprenticeships actually are. In the party’s manifesto they refer to apprenticeship ‘qualifications’ being the gold standard. Apprenticeships are not qualifications. In addition they refer to those achieving ‘good grades’ at school being offered an Apprenticeship place. What will ‘good grades’ actually mean – and will this restrict perfectly capable vocational learners from pursuing apprenticeship where they might not have an academic leaning?  There’s also no mention of vocational learning for ages 24 plus in the Labour manifesto, and very little in the other manifestos.

“From the Conservatives, the continued commitment to apprenticeships has been set out, with a reiteration of the promise to see 3 million Apprenticeships created in the life of the next Parliament, as well as replacing low quality classroom based vocational programmes with ‘high quality’ Apprenticeships. The fact that the Conservatives are promising to give employers much more control of Apprenticeship ‘courses’ so that they can ‘teach in the workplace’ is encouraging because, at the IMI, we firmly believe that employers need to be able to tailor apprenticeships to their specific needs. We do, however, worry about the plan to replace job seekers allowance for 18-21 year olds with ‘youth allowance’, limited to 6 months and then requiring the young person to take on an apprenticeship, traineeship or community work to continue to receive benefits. Will this create a generation of apprentices that are not actually committed to the learning – and just doing it to collect their benefits?

“The Lib Dems’ approach to apprenticeships, promising to double the number of businesses hiring apprentices is interesting – putting a target on the number of businesses hiring apprentices rather than on a commitment on the number of apprentices. They are also proposing to deliver a reformed and improved Work Programme in partnership with English ‘local’ Government around tailoring training to local employment markets which seems to demonstrate a real sense of understanding that skills development must be matched to need.

“UKIP also seems to think apprenticeships are qualifications, with its proposal to introduce an option for pupils to take an apprenticeship ‘qualification’ whilst still at school instead of the four core GCSEs, which they would be able to continue past the age of 16 working with ‘certified professionals qualified to grade their progress’. Our concern about this approach would be its lack of engagement with employers.

“And the Greens want to provide more training and work experience for young unemployed people through expanding apprenticeships; specifically providing an apprenticeship to all qualified young people aged 16-25 who ‘do not have one and want one’. The lack of detail in terms of ‘qualified’ is a concern for the IMI, as is the commitment to increase funding of Apprenticeships by 30 per cent – with no detail of how this will be done. But at least the Greens seem to have a good understanding of what apprenticeships are – ‘jobs with structured training’.

“Whilst the manifestos from SNP and Plaid Cymru are still to come, it seems to the IMI that apprenticeships remain a good ‘talking point’ for the politicians. But there needs to be more recognition of the dilemma that currently exists amongst young people in choosing whether to go to university or opt for an apprenticeship. And, unfortunately, the negative attitude of parents towards apprenticeships compared to university education is probably remains the biggest hurdle to overcome. One to one careers advice, as promised by Labour, has to be crucial in tackling that barrier.”

“IMI sponsored research from the Industry Apprentice Council (IAC), showed that 45 per cent of current industry apprentices had received poor or no advice and guidance on their career choice. Meanwhile, less than 10 per cent said a careers advisor or teacher had helped them find out about apprenticeships.

“In the motor industry we work in a dynamic, high tech, environment which needs bright minds to keep up with rapidly evolving technology. But we are already seeing examples in the sector where top apprenticeship programs are struggling to attract the calibre of student they need. Young people are being directed to academic routes without any reference to alternatives. We desperately need a system in place where young people are consistently presented with all the options.

“Poor provision of careers advice, coupled with a rise in the school leaving age, has the potential to create a perfect storm for the apprenticeship system and the industries which rely on it”, Nash concluded.

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