To reshape our economy, making it more sustainable and resilient, is a macro-economic priority. If we are to make things people across the world want to buy, we must build better workforce skills.
Which is why, despite tough economic constraints, the Government is determined to ensure that our education and training system is best equipped to provide the skills people need to secure employment and build the productive careers that help firms expand and prosper.
To that end, putting apprenticeships back at the heart of our education and skills system is one of the Government’s proudest achievements, with record investment already paying dividends for individuals, businesses and the wider economy. A recent National Audit Office report found that for every £1 of government investment in apprenticeships, £18 was generated for the wider economy.
In addition, we are determined to ensure firms can access the high-level skills they need to grow. Apprenticeships in engineering and manufacturing alone have grown 32.4 per cent in the past two years.
Last year we helped 457,000 people to start an apprenticeship and there are now apprenticeship frameworks to suit more than 1,200 job roles across a huge range of industries. This year we will invest a record £1.5 billion in the programme.
We are putting apprenticeships back at the heart of our education and skills system
By radically expanding the number of degree-level apprenticeships for young people, we are fuelling social mobility by feeding opportunity. In doing so we will redefine the pathway to higher learning and resultant employment, at last exposing as a myth the bourgeois liberal notion that only through academic prowess can status be assured.
So far £18.7 million from the Higher Apprenticeship Fund is helping to create 19,000 higher-level apprenticeships, with around 250 employers, including Burberry, Leyland Trucks, TNT and Unilever, participating.
We’ll simply get left behind if we cannot learn to value the vocational. In Germany, two thirds of young people take some form of apprenticeship by the time they are 25. France too knew how much practical skills mattered before Britain. But now, inspired by the spirit of Ruskin and Morris, Britain has overtaken our Gallic neighbours in terms of the quality and quantity of our apprenticeships.
However, we do recognise that for many employers, particularly smaller companies, taking on an apprentice is a big undertaking. Because I want to assuage doubts, by lightening the weight of bureaucratic burdens and by providing more support to help businesses, we will remove all health and safety requirements which go beyond what legislation requires; make a significant reduction in data collection and audit requirements; launch an online tool kit to make navigating the system easier; and are undertaking an employer-led review to advise on measures which will give small and medium-sized enterprises more say in the system.
We are also piloting a radical new programme to give employers greater ownership of vocational training. Employers can compete for a share of a £250-million fund to explore innovative employer-owned approaches that test new ways to invest in skills.
For the first time, all apprenticeships must now be a paid job and will be expected to last a minimum of 12 months to ensure they are of sufficient length and rigour to deliver the training employers need. And for the first time too, apprenticeship standards have been enforced by statute.
By investing in apprenticeships, the Government is building a world-class skills system to match the best of academia, thereby giving people throughout their career more opportunities to succeed and enabling Britain to prosper. Apprenticeships embody a continuum of learning as one generation passes skills to the next – nourishing the national interest, nurturing the common good.