Last week was National Apprenticeships Week and I was very happy to participate in a number of events aimed towards encouraging a greater role for apprenticeships in our local economy.
For me, apprenticeships are personal. I was an apprentice while at school, it gave me a route into a career and the skills which eventually enabled me to set up my own business.
Apprenticeships have their place in our town’s history too. The first generation of New Town residents moved to Crawley and took jobs in the light industries that dominated Manor Royal. The route into these jobs began with proper apprenticeships, offering young people real training and the chance at a decently paid career built upon skills.
As the UK’s industries were killed-off, Gatwick took up the slack, leading to a polarisation of local employment between unskilled and professional work, making it harder to get a decent paying job without a degree.
Over the last decade the gap widened and as retail digitises and manual work automates we risk losing those many of those unskilled jobs. To give young people a better shot this has got to change, they need greater skills to access better working opportunities, but a degree isn’t always the best route for everyone and don’t fit the needs of every job. Apprenticeships offer the forgotten 50% a different path to success.
Yet, despite the crucial role apprenticeships play in the economies which have better weathered the economic downturn and claims that the Education budget has been ring fenced, under the Tories Further Education has suffered a cut of a third. We’re headed in the wrong direction, fast.
Labour will guarantee apprenticeships for every school leaver with the grades and all firms bidding for government contracts will be asked to provide new apprenticeship opportunities. Labour will also involve employers in designing apprenticeships and create a gold standard Technical Baccalaureate and Technical Degree to ensure apprenticeships are given the recognition they deserve.
Apprenticeships are part of our heritage and if we are to deliver for the next generation we need to remember the opportunities they bring.