New skills eco-system puts clear water between Labour and the tories

A new ‘skills eco system’ now puts clear water between Labour and the Tories policy of ‘pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap’ low grade apprenticeships.

The call for a new apprenticeship and training system for the UK by unions seems to be getting through to Labour as it begins to flesh out new policies that will lead us into the 2015 election.

At last weeks EEF Manufacturing Conference, Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna did their double act in front of a packed main hall of manufacturing employers at London’s QE2 Centre in Westminster.

Umunna, sitting in a easy chair on the stage hit out at employers for not taking on enough skilled apprentices – and the government for its muddled and multitude of schemes that are not delivering.

The fact that two-thirds of the UK’s largest employers do not provide high quality apprenticeships was labelled a “disgrace” by the shadow business secretary.

This was in response to a question I posed at the conference on the need for a review of the UK’s skills base, the apprenticeship system and the need to combat forthcoming skills shortages in engineering and the science based industries.

Umunna described skilled apprenticeships as being at “the heart of the economic debate”. He blamed cultural issues as to why apprenticeship schemes aren’t “afforded a parity of esteem” with academic qualifications.

“There’s a lot of talk about us being in a global race, but the question is how do you make the British Lion roar in that race – having a proper ‘skills eco-system’ is fundamental to that,” said Umunna.

“There are cultural issues though. If I was to ask everyone in this room who has a teenager to raise their hand over whether they’d like to go to university or do an apprenticeship, I think we’d know what the answer would be.”

“We have to change the way we think about what our young people are going on to do. If your child is going on to do an apprenticeship, it’s as important and as noble as them going on to them going to university. This is why Labour has said give us a greater control over the skills budget and if we are elected we will introduce a new technical baccalaureate of gold standard in technical and engineering and vocational qualifications.”

Unite and the TUC have been calling for an overhaul the UK’s skills and training system – with a preference of the German styled ‘dual vocational system’ which provides for skilled apprenticeships lasting at least three years with on the job and off the job training, preparing young people for employment possibilities in manufacturing and science based industries – rather than being channelled into academia.

Unite, the TUC (and many employers) are also demanding the return of a nationally based schools career service, where young people can get proper advice and counseling on future jobs in manufacturing and science rather than the ‘bums on seats’ approach to further education or university.

There also needs to be a more streamlined approach to help SME’s to take on apprentices. We need to look at new models, including the Technical Apprenticeship Service being pioneers by the sector skills council for the Chemicals and Process Sector (COGENT).

A new ‘skills eco system’ now puts clear water between Labour and the Tories policy of ‘pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap’ low grade apprenticeships.

March 11th – 15th is UK National Apprenticeship Week.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.