From education to employment

Give young people the opportunity to decide their future

If our young people are to make the right choices about their future career then they must be given the options. They need to be told not just about ‘A’ levels and university entrance, but also about apprenticeships and technical training.

But the fact is that they are not. There is a statutory duty on schools and colleges to provide access to impartial careers advice for young people aged 13 to 18, but this is simply not happening. Part of the problem is that these institutions tend to push their students towards conventional academic achievement. Perhaps this is not surprising given the background of most teachers and lecturers, and the natural desire to maintain the viability of sixth forms, but it is not helpful to most students.

I have heard from some young people about the pressure they are under to stay on at school, or move to sixth form college, and take A-levels, rather than starting apprenticeships. In fact, many young people simply don’t know that they exist as a careers option. According to a recent University and Colleges Union perception study, ‘numerous young people felt informed about UCAS applications….fewer felt they knew anything about apprenticeships.

This is why we need to take responsibility for the delivery of careers advice out of the schools and colleges themselves and into local ‘hubs’, which can bring together all interested parties in one area – businesses and service providers – fully accredited and operating under a national standard overseen by NCS.

It would be cheaper to administer, because of economies of scale, and would be far more attractive to business representatives, who we need to get involved if we are to develop truly outstanding technical education.

Working together is the watchword. I visited the Bristol campus of South Gloucestershire and Stroud College recently. The college has an excellent careers hub, working with schools and colleges across the region and providing one-to-one advice from professional careers advisers, which it employs. The college is the point of contact for all employers, it works with the local enterprise partnership, and it is considering expanding its service. It is an excellent model for careers advice of the future.

But not only do I want to give young people the option of pursuing an apprenticeship, I want to actively encourage them to do so. The fact is that we are pushing too many of our students into university when they have far more to gain from following this ‘alternative’ route into the world of sustainable work. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that we have a skills shortage in this country, and if we are to compete in the international economy of the 21st century, then we simply need many more technically skilled workers.

Unfortunately, the proportion of apprenticeship starts made by 16-to-24-year-olds has fallen significantly, from 82.3% when last Labour Government t left office to 63.2% last year. This is why the next Labour Government will create an extra 80,000 high-quality apprenticeships a year in England, by the end of the next Parliament. We will also introduce an apprenticeship guarantee, by which every school leaver who gets the grades will be able to begin an apprenticeship.

It is vital that we raise the status of apprenticeships, and make them more attractive to young people, as well as to their parents and potential employers. I would like to see the completion of an apprenticeship celebrated as a real achievement, in the same way that young people celebrate graduating from university. I would also like to see apprentices paid more, and I would confidently expect the apprenticeship minimum wage to rise in the next Parliament by about £1 per hour, to around £3.36. That’s a rise of about 23%.

But the absolute key to promoting the apprenticeship route will be achieved by ensuring the highest standards in technical education. This is why Labour will transform the best FE colleges into new specialist Institutes of Technical Education, licensed to deliver our Technical Baccalaureate and apprenticeships training. Only colleges with top quality teaching and – crucially – strong employer links will gain a license and be able to offer our new ‘Tech Bacc’. This will mean employing vocational lecturers who regularly spend time in industry, thereby refreshing their skills, and by ensuring that at least one governor comes from the world of business. Our policy of ringfencing the whole of the Education budget would also help the beleaguered FE and Sixth form colleges who have disproportionately suffered from reductions in funding despite their excellent results.

Entering the world of work has never been more confusing or more important both for young people and our economy. We owe it to them to ensure that the best advice and information about all routes is given and the current postcode lottery does not continue.

Yvonne Forvargue is Shadow Minister for Young People

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