Apprenticeships are not just TV drama but vital to the future success of the economy, according to a leading industrialist.
And Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, head of Warwick Manufacturing Group, is urging the Government to take a leaf out of the German model and develop a funding system along the lines of student loans.
Speaking in a House of Lords debate – just as another series of Lord Sugar’s The Apprentice puts the topic back in the public eye – he chided: “I wish apprenticeships received a tenth of the attention devoted to graduate funding. Tony Blair once said that political interest in vocational education was so low that he could declare war on Iranduring a speech on skills and no-one would notice!”
The Labour government had however done some good things.
“In the mid 1990’s there was not a penny in the budget for apprenticeships, while today there is over a billion a year.”
But there were problems.
“It is hard to study the current system without frustration and confusion.
“There are too many bodies involved, too many processes, too much complexity, and too little employer involvement. Bodies like the Learning and Skills Council were too bureaucratic.
“Despite all the money that has been spent, we still have a huge issue with the skills base in this country.”
Vocational education had effectively been nationalised by the creation of the NCVQ.
“The fundamental shape of the system has not changed much, though the bureaucracy has been recast repeatedly. It is past time to move beyond shuffling the bureaucratic pack and it is clear that this Government sees the expansion of apprenticeships as central to economic success.”
Lauding the likes of Rolls-Royce, Dyson, BT, JCB and Jaguar Land Rover, Lord Bhattacharyya, who started out as a graduate apprentice, said: “These companies act as ambassadors. Unfortunately, too few follow their lead.
“To change this, we must go back to first principles. Why do people wish to have an apprenticeship? For a learner it is a judgement that serving an apprenticeship will increase future earnings and employability. For an employer, it is an investment in their future workforce.”
“The key is to hand the power of choice to the individual apprentice, so resources flow to the most successful programmes.
“This is the model in place in Germany. The student chooses the apprenticeship which will provide the best future for them.
“When they secure their contract, their employer receives a ‘virtual voucher’ that can be spent at whatever technical college the company chooses, while the cost of the apprenticeship itself is the responsibility of the employer.”
Britain too should offer a system of “apprenticeship loans”, as in higher education, which would be paid back once the worker was earning at a decent level.
“Each apprentice would be making a contribution to their future success. This would create a significant budget to be spent on high quality technical education, which real businesses and apprentices’ value. We would also cut out huge swathes of bureaucracy.
“An apprenticeship loan would fund the apprentice’s technical education, with the state supporting the student’s aspirations via subsidised interest and deferred repayment, while the company takes the burden of apprentice wages and firm specific training.
“This would allow government to be the guardian of apprentices’ right to a quality technical education, not be the dictator of national skills needs. It would encourage employers to design apprenticeships attractive to the best future employees, driving standards and numbers up.
“If we back the instincts of apprentices, we will create a stronger technical education for all.”
And he praised efforts to promote a new generation of university technical colleges. “I sincerely hope there will be funding to make them a reality.”