A parallel path to top quality jobs

Britain cannot succeed unless we unlock the talents of all young people. Last month, Labour announced its progressive plan to bring down the cost of going to university, but unlike the Tories we will not focus solely on the 50 per cent who go down the traditional academic route. A Labour government will build an ambitious apprenticeship program as part of a British ‘dual system’ that offers everyone a parallel path to top quality jobs.

This week is National Apprenticeship Week – one of the many legacies of the last Labour government’s strong record on apprenticeships. It is a good time to look at what progress has been made on vocational education since we left office.

The picture is not promising. Labour has revealed time and time again that the instead of building on our strong foundations, this government’s approach to apprenticeships is letting down young people.

Earlier this week the Commons’ education select committee revealed that, despite the government’s warm words, the cold facts are that apprenticeships numbers for under-25 year olds actually fell in the last year. It is not just quantity that is suffered but quality too. An apprenticeship should be a gold standard qualification but many schemes today offer little training and poor pay. Over the last few years the number of over-60s starting an apprenticeship increased by 520 per cent – that is 25 times more than the figure for young people – reflecting the fact that low level existing training for adults has simply been re-badged as apprenticeships.

We cannot go on like this. We need a government with a better plan to create thousands of top quality opportunities. That is why Labour will guarantee every school leaver that gets the right grades an apprenticeship. On current trends that will require another 80,000 high quality apprenticeships and we have got a clear plan to make that happen.

It starts by working in partnership with business to boost the number of opportunities available. We will ensure every firm getting a major government contract offers apprenticeships. And a Labour government would require large firms recruiting from outside the European Union to invest in apprenticeships here to make sure we are addressing the skills gaps in this country.

We will also implement a something-for-something deal with businesses: giving employers more control over skills funding and standards and asking in return that employers boost the number of high quality apprenticeships in their sectors and supply chains. We will also ensure young people that do not have the grades take up their entitlements to training and guarantee a job with training for those out of work for more than a year.

These are just the first steps in a bold approach to skills under a Labour government. Our goal is to build a British dual system like the best of our continental competitors, with a clear, professional, technical path to degree level skills. That means having both brilliant universities and a strong, new vocational alternative.

We have set out an ambitious plan for a new generation of technical degrees to sit at the heart of this dual system. These will be delivered by colleges, universities and employers working together to offer an ‘earn while you learn’ route to degree level skills. It is something that both young people and businesses are crying out for – that is why it will be Labour’s priority for expanding higher education.

We can not rebuild Britain unless we truly back our young people. But the government is offering this generation a false choice: either go to university and rack up a mountain of debt or try your luck in a broken system of alternatives. A Labour government would put a stop to that by building a dual system that gets everybody, not just some, to the very highest levels of their potential. Only in that way can we offer everyone a future that is optimistic and ambitions.

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Liam Byrne MP is shadow minister for universities, science and skills. He tweets @liambyrneMP

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 Photo: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

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