From education to employment

First degree level apprentice in the House of Commons – Gillian Keegan

GIllian Keegan, Member of Parliament for Chichester

Gillian Keegan100x100Gillian Keegan MP, addressing the Westminster Employment Forum Keynote Seminar: The future for higher and degree apprenticeships – expansion, integration and standards

I’m the Member of Parliament for Chichester but I’ve only been that for four months, so I’m not a very experienced MP. However, I think I may be the first, I’m checking this out with the House of Commons Library, but I think I may be the first degree level apprentice in the House of Commons.

I am actually somebody who did a degree apprenticeship 30 years ago, which is why I’m here, why I’m so far from Westminster and why I’m super interested and passionate about this subject.

I grew up in a place called Knowsley in Liverpool, Huyton in Knowsley. Knowsley is quite famous in academic circles for having the lowest level attainment for decades in its comprehensive schools, which of course we all go to, because that’s all that’s available.

I left the school that I went to at 16 with my 10 GCSEs, but there were no sixth forms in any of the schools, so there was nowhere to go actually with my new found academic greatness. So I started work as an apprentice in a car factor in Kirkby, if you know the place, and I worked there for 7 years, and it wasn’t really called a degree apprenticeship, but it was a degree apprenticeship as you would call it now, so I worked and I had day release and I had evening classes, the universities didn’t work so closely, or the polytechnics and universities didn’t work so closely with industry then, but effectively it was the same thing, I went to day release, I went to evening classes, I did all my homework at the weekends, and it was fantastic.

What kind of started as a disadvantage in life, not being able to go to sixth form and not being able to go to a decent school, became a massive advantage.

7 years later I’d worked and travelled abroad, I managed a team, I’d cut real deals in industry and I had a 2:1 in business studies from Liverpool John Moores University, which was perfectly respectable, not the best, not the worst, but perfectly respectable.

And from then on I carved a career in international business, and I worked for 27 years in international business, I worked in Tokyo, I lived in Madrid for 8 years, I lived in Nice, and that degree apprenticeship, or higher level apprenticeship, was my absolute life chance. It gave me every opportunity that has since been afforded to me, since doing that, and even now coming into the House of Commons.

So I worked for 27 years, there’s nothing like actually working and studying at the same time. I was working in a car factory, it was a highly unionised car factory, and I was studying international business, competition and globalisation at the same time.

There is nothing like that experience:

  1. to make you a Conservative in Liverpool, and
  2. to make you really understand what it is, or the key success factors or how you actually need to get on in business.

It’s not intellectual, it’s not abstract, it’s absolutely real, dealing with real challenges, dealing with real people’s jobs, real people’s livelihoods and I’ve always taken that responsibility seriously, but having that at the same time was absolutely brilliant. I went to an All Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships yesterday (17 Oct) in Parliament.

The one thing I find about is it’s almost a discussion which kind of excuses it, it’s an alternative route but it’s not quite as good at the other route which is going straight to university, to be an academic, and I actually see it as a superior route.

And it’s not for everybody, it’s not for everybody. I had this long conversation with my eldest stepson last night who has enjoyed wallowing in the university experience at UEA studying politics and he’s still wallowing in the university experience at City University. For him it was the right thing to go to university, but for many people, if you really do want to get a serious career and get on in life, it is absolutely the best route, I think, to get into the workplace.

By the time I was 23 I was the IT procurement manager at NatWest Bank, there was lots of IT procurement that was happening at those times because the technology was hitting branch banking and the internet was hitting etc.

By the age of 26 I was in Tokyo buying the chips that you all see on chips and pins, you know your chip card, which didn’t exist at the time, that weren’t big enough, in the world, they were not big enough to hold the banking algorithms, I was out there trying to persuade people, which I did, to develop the application specific integrated circuits that you need to hold the banking algorithms.

By the time of 31 I was managing a large multinational sales group from Madrid travelling all over the world, and then I was Chief Marketing Officer at a tech company and now I’m in Parliament, and I owe it all, I believe, to my degree level apprenticeship.

It enabled me to take what was probably a disadvantage in terms of the Knowsley education system, to a massive advantage in 7 years.

In my constituency I have Rolls Royce motor cars, very different from the car factory that I started in, but I went there, and they have degree level apprenticeships and I met a couple of the young people who were doing it. The common problem in Chichester is, it’s very difficult to afford a house, the average salary to house prices is 13 times, it’s as bad as London. These degree level apprentices were saving up and negotiating to buy their house in Chichester.

They had got on to the housing ladder because they had a decent job, because they were earning whilst they were learning, and they had a guaranteed role afterwards.

Yesterday (17 Oct) when I heard a lot of people kind of tell me, how can we sell this, how can we get people to take this more seriously, how can we encourage more people to become degree apprentices? I said it must be the easiest thing to sell in the world, you earn, you learn, you get on a career ladder, you absolutely have real responsibility whilst you are gaining your education, it really must be an easy sell.

I guess one of the things that brings you all here is trying to understand how we can make this a route, a very valid route for many more people, young people, for whom it suits in our society today.

Gillian Keegan, Member of Parliament for Chichester

Despite best endeavours to ensure accuracy, text based on transcription may contain errors which could alter the intended meaning of any portion of the reported content. Speakers have not had the opportunity for any corrections.

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