Celebrating National Apprenticeship Week


Richard with JLR apprentices - photo credit SMMT

Last week was National Apprenticeship Week. I was delighted to celebrate the start of the week by attending an event on apprenticeships in the motor industry organised by the Society of Motoring Manufacturers and Traders and Semta.

In particular it was great to meet Carolyn Lee and James Doughty, two new Jaguar Land Rover apprentices from the West Midlands. If anybody ever doubted the value of apprenticeships and what they can do to raise aspirations among young people, they just need to listen to the kind of things they were saying to me.

As Chair of the All-Party Motor Group, I am well aware that the automotive sector is a great champion of apprenticeships and the training of young people, including here in the West Midlands.

Last week I also spoke in a Labour-led debate on apprenticeships in the House of Commons. You can read my speech online here.

The government’s rhetoric on apprenticeships sounds encouraging. However I’m worried that they are not matching their words in practice. In the debate I stressed the importance of listening to what those in industry say about apprenticeships. They are very positive about apprenticeships but feel the government is not providing enough direction and support on how to get involved in the system. This is especially a problem for smaller businesses.

Apprenticeships are good for the apprentice and good for the businesses training them. They can help fill a skills gap and train the future workforce. They offer an opportunity to build up knowledge and skills in a ‘real world’ environment, while gaining qualifications and earning an income at the same time.

Despite these huge advantages, in the last academic year, the numbers of apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds fell in four of England’s nine regions – including here in the West Midlands. At the same time youth unemployment has sky-rocketed.

Here in Northfield 1,260 young people are currently without a job. With just 14% of apprenticeships going to long-term unemployed young people in 2011, it is clear the government needs to do much more to improve access to apprenticeships.

We need more apprenticeships – and not just more in terms of quantity but also quality. Providing a greater number of quality apprenticeships would offer a real alternative to university. Businesses, especially small businesses, need to be given more assistance on how to provide apprenticeship placements and how to link up with local authorities and agencies.

That is why Labour would use the billions spent through public procurement to boost apprenticeship opportunities by requiring companies bidding for contracts worth over £1 million to offer high quality apprenticeships.

A report from the cross-party Business, Skills and Innovation Select Committee concluded that for every £1 million spent, at least one apprenticeship could be created. Doing so would ensure a consistent stream of opportunities for young people to train for a range of high-skilled jobs.

Labour would create 33,000 new apprenticeships using the construction of HS2, the new high speed rail line, alone.

And, here in Birmingham, the Labour City Council is also taking real local action to tackle youth unemployment. The government needs to follow the examples of Labour councils up and down the country who are doing what they can to increase the number and quality of apprenticeships.

Investing in apprenticeships is an integral part of creating a new economy; one that works for the many, not just a few. And young people in Birmingham are amongst those who stand to benefit most.

  • Photo credit: SMMT

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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You can reach me by email at richard@richardburden.com or use the form on the Contact page to send me a message.