“February brings National Apprenticeship Week and it left me reflecting on the opportunities and challenges facing our young people, especially with the global Coronavirus pandemic having caused so much havoc to people’s studies over the last year.
I think we force too many young people down the “University at 18” route. It works really well for some but for many, there are options that will better help them fulfill their potential and provide better on-the-job learning and experience.
This week is a great opportunity to celebrate and promote apprenticeships. Highlight the ‘earn and learn’ benefit for students and the professional skills they provide for those businesses that employ them. The focus this year was on “build for the future”.
The highlight for me was speaking to some of the young apprentices at Derwentside College in Consett on a video call on Friday. The young people I spoke to included my constituent Brittany Kears, a past apprentice of Durham Constabulary who won the ‘Excellence in Business Admin Award’ at Derwentside College’s awards evening, and Katie Walker, a past apprentice of County Durham and Darlington Foundation NHS Trust (CDDFT) who won NHS Apprentice of the Year. We were also joined by Susan Errington and Nicola McKegney who lead the College’s work on Apprenticeships and with who I’ve developed a good working relationship.
The professionalism and confidence of the young people were striking. It was great to hear from each of them about their individual journeys and it was great to see the Apprenticeship Programme, one of the things I worked closely on before I was an MP and working at the Department of Education is working well and with 394,000 people starting apprenticeships in 2018/19 compared to 240,000 in 2008/09 – it really is.
However, there is no doubt that the public health restrictions of the past year have made it more difficult for people to fulfill placements. Important steps through the Education and Skills Funding Agency to provide extra support for those businesses facilitating placements and has encouraged businesses to put work online. But challenges remain.
The one thing that we need to do as we emerge from the global Coronavirus pandemic is ensuring that the health crisis we’ve dealt with doesn’t become a job crisis for young people and people who need to upskill and reskill. I am encouraged that the Government is already on the front foot on this, such as introducing new incentive payments for businesses of £2,000 for apprentices between 16 and 24 and £1,500 for those over the age of 25. Meanwhile, the Government has also launched the Kickstart scheme which provides funding to employers to create job placements for 16-to-24-year-olds on Universal Credit.
Inspired by the energy of the enthusiasm of the young people at Derwentside College in Consett, I will keep making the case for Apprenticeships and Further Education.
Leaving the pandemic we’ve all got to do our bit to make sure we hit the ground running and will be holding the Government’s feet to the fire to make sure they keep their side of the bargain.”