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Apprenticeships – the buzz word of the party conference season

David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the national awarding organisation

As the 3 major political parties begin to set their sights on the General Election, which is now less than 6 months away, apprenticeships are becoming one of the hot topics of the election build-up.

With the parties now jostling for pole position as their campaigns begin to build momentum, the subject of apprenticeships has cut through the noise and conflicting standpoints with a refreshing degree of consensus.

That consensus being, apprenticeships will play a crucial role in helping the next government drive the country’s emergence from economic recession, reduce youth unemployment and improve social mobility.

Setting out his stall, Ed Miliband pledged that a Labour government would see the number of young people starting apprenticeships equal those going to university by 2025. Miliband’s long term view for apprenticeships will also see their duration set to a minimum length of two years.

Sharing his own vision for apprenticeships, George Osborne used the Conservative conference to announce the creation of three million apprenticeships during the next parliament. To fund this increase, the Conservatives revealed plans to tighten benefit caps for under 21-year-olds through cutting housing benefits and withdrawing jobseekers allowance from those who don’t find work in six months.

In reference to these proposed cuts Prime Minster David Cameron said: “I want us effectively to abolish youth unemployment. I want us to end the idea that aged 18 you leave school, go and leave home, claim unemployment benefit and claim housing benefit. We should not be offering that choice to young people. We should be saying to people you should be earning or learning”.

Although the Liberal Democrats chose not to talk numbers when pledging their commitment to apprenticeships, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg did call for an increase in the minimum wage for apprentices from £2.73 to £3.79.

At NCFE, we firmly support the shift in focus towards apprenticeships so it’s encouraging to see that whichever way the election swings in May, the future looks positive for work based training and in turn, the future looks positive for young learners.

This being said, with a projected growth in the number of apprenticeships, the next government must work closely with both employers and educators to ensure the high standard of apprenticeship delivery is maintained. Quantity must not substitute quality.

We remain committed to providing the sector with high quality vocational qualifications and apprenticeships, and look forward to working with colleges and training providers to meet increased demands of the future industry needs.

David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the national awarding organisation

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