More than two fifths of delegates champion apprenticeships at annual conference
Politicians and business leaders were in agreement last week at the EEF National Conference 2015 that inspiring young people to take up manufacturing apprenticeships was the key to sparking an “industrial renaissance” and fundamental to rebalancing the UK economy.
An interactive poll at the conference found that an overwhelming majority of audience members – 44 per cent – felt that recruiting and training apprentices was the best way for manufacturers to improve their skills base. Up-skilling and retraining existing employees was favoured by only 29 per cent of delegates, while 10 per cent said increasing their overall training budget was the answer to tackling the skills shortage.
MP Matthew Hancock, minister of state for business, energy and enterprise, said he was “proud of the rejuvenation of [this] ancient concept”, and pledged that if a new Conservative government was elected in May it would create three million new apprenticeships – up from the two million places created since the beginning of the current Parliament in 2010.
Hancock was challenged by a member of the audience that the UK’s provision of apprenticeships lagged far behind other countries. The minister said that the government wanted to make a choice between apprenticeships and university “the new norm” for school leavers but admitted “this will take time.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband called for an “overturning [of] the idea that there is an iron curtain between vocational and academic education,” as well as pledging that a Labour government would “guarantee a high-quality apprenticeship” for every 18 year-old with the right grades.
Miliband also said a government under his leadership would ask all firms that win major government contracts – as well as every firm that recruits staff from outside the EU – to offer apprenticeships.
Nicola Salter, HR director at Williams Martini Racing, said businesses have a responsibility to inspire future generations to want to work in manufacturing. When a young boy wrote to the F1 team to find out how to become a race engineer, she said: “a number of engineers took the time to reply, and even invited him to visit the factory to meet his idols. This wasn’t a PR stunt; this is out of a genuine desire to motivate young people.”
“For many of our staff, working at Williams has meant achieving a childhood dream,” she added. “They now inspire the next generation – that could be your son, and hopefully it’s your daughter.”
In its latest Skills Funding Letter – which sets out the available budget for the further education (FE) and skills sector for the next financial year – the government has promised to protect apprenticeships by investing £770m across the UK in 2015 to 2016.
However, the Adult Skills Budget will see an 11 per cent reduction in funding, the letter confirmed.
Kirstie Donnelly, managing director of City & Guilds UK welcomed the increased emphasis in funding for apprenticeships, but “this should not be at the expense of adult learners,” she said.