The 2015 election is fast approaching, so what do we need to know about the main political parties and their promises on training?
We are experiencing one of the strongest economic recoveries in Europe. Almost two million new jobs have been created as confidence and investment get back on track. Meanwhile, the percentage of the population in work is at an all-time high of 73.3 per cent.
Yet despite this, the UK’s skills shortage is still one of the biggest threats to our continuing economic growth. In contrast to places like Germany, with their excellent apprenticeship programmes, the UK is lagging behind, particularly in industries such as engineering.
We’ve heard a lot of promises on apprenticeships from the main political parties during the 2015 election run-up, who all appear not only to view apprenticeships as a positive for young people, but a vital component of economic growth. According to the CBI, 90 per cent of people who complete apprentice programmes will stay in employment – and of those about 70 per cent will stay with the employers who trained them.
Even though the number of apprenticeships have risen under the coalition, Labour has claimed many of them aren’t a high enough qualification, being ‘intermediate level’, rather than ‘higher level’ (equivalent to two A-levels). The Conservatives have countered this by saying they want apprenticeships to be held on a par with degrees.
Would additional higher-level apprenticeships mean more applicants? Vocational education and apprenticeships are still often seen as a second-best option to university by parents- although employers don’t see it this way, appreciating the work experience, loyal work force and the fact that skills are tailored to their company.
So here is a run-down of what some of the parties are offering when it comes to training and apprenticeships, in an attempt to get both businesses and young people on-side during the 2015 election:
The Conservatives have highlighted plans to create an extra three million ‘training places’ if the party remains in power after the general 2015 election in May, paid for by further capping of benefits such as child benefit.
Labour has pledged to create 80,000 more apprenticeships, however, 33,000 of those would come from just one project, the High Speed 2 rail line (HS2). That raises questions about what will happen once that project is complete, or if it’s funding is cut.
Ed Miliband has promised £50 million in funding for level 3 apprenticeships for every school leaver who gets the grades. Those with two A-Levels will also qualify, but the scheme will exclude those who only have GCSEs.
This seems positive, moving away from apprenticeships being seen as for those who ‘couldn’t go to college or uni’. However apprenticeships aren’t just about the qualification but about the skills; making them too academic may squeeze out learners that will be excellent at the job, but not interested in achieving a degree. However this may help to convince parents who see apprenticeships as less aspirational then degrees.
The Liberal Democrats have pledged to expand the two million apprenticeships made available under the coalition (pointing out that Vince Cable was instrumental in pushing them through) and develop national colleges for vocational skills to end the “snobbery” about apprenticeships.
UKIP has pledged to scrap the target of 50% of school leavers going on to university and introduce an option for students to take an apprenticeship instead of four non-core GCSE subjects.
The employers they work with will be qualified to test and grade the apprentices, and the students can carry on working with them through their A-levels. This suggests that the funding for apprenticeships would be given straight to employers rather than training companies and that the employer would need to provide the training resources and the curriculum.
The Green Party haven’t published a specific policy on apprenticeships but have said they would increase apprenticeship funding.