This Monday marks the beginning of national apprenticeship week, where organisations from across the country are brought together to promote apprenticeships and traineeships. Often, discussions on education policy ignores the importance of vocational and technical education including these apprenticeships and it is essential in a political sense that we use this week to bring our focus back to the progression of policy in this area.
Apprenticeships blend work and learning and provide a powerful route into the world of work given that so many apprentices will go on to receive full employment with their employer after their apprenticeship is over. As we come out of COVID and job opportunities are destroyed by the economic damage it has caused, apprenticeships will be a key part of the economic recovery providing vital opportunities for young people to get both work experience and real skills in a practical environment.
Whilst young people worry about becoming part of a lost generation, the government is failing on youth unemployment with their poorly administered Kickstart placement scheme which isn't delivering the opportunities our young people are crying out for. They are failing on youth unemployment by failing to properly fund the further education institutions which enable high quality apprenticeships. They are failing by missing the importance of lifelong learning and training opportunities. They are failing our young people.
The Liberal Democrat’s are clear that Apprenticeships will form a vital part of the route forward in tackling growing youth unemployment. The Liberal Democrats want to widen out the apprenticeship levy into a wider skills and training levy, with additional targeted support with a Social Mobility Fund targeting funding to areas with the greatest skills needs helping young people who need more training to get high paying jobs. We understand the importance of further education, and will increase the funding of vital colleges and sixth forms by refunding their VAT freeing up an estimated 350 thousand pounds in funding for the average sixth form college. And, of course, we know that lifelong learning is the key to a successful career which is why we will back everyone in this country with a 10 thousand pound skills wallet to enable them in this endeavour.
On National Apprenticeships Week, we of course look forward to hearing the success stories of the apprenticeship levy, and we are happy to hear about young people across the country learning of the great potential of apprenticeships. However it is also important that policy makers from all sides of the political debate remember the importance of apprenticeships and further education as we look forward to a post-COVID Britain. That is why the Liberal Democrats are considering, at our conference next month, our response to the impacts of COVID on apprenticeships and how to maximise the amount of apprenticeship opportunities available to young people given the urgent need for training and skills to bolster our economic recovery. The Liberal Democrat’s are standing up for apprentices, present and future, unlike this government.