This week is National Apprenticeships Week. This initiative, started under the previous Labour Government and thankfully continued under David Cameron, is an opportunity to highlight and praise all the good work that apprenticeships achieve.
It also showcases the great advantages that taking on an apprentice can bring to a business, as well as the boost it can give to somebody’s career if they embark upon an apprenticeship route.
In the past, since the 1980s, apprenticeships were seen as an old-fashioned means of training that didn’t fit in with the modern way of working and obtaining skills.
As a result, apprenticeship numbers fell dramatically over the next few decades, so that by the time of 1997, when the Labour Government came to office, apprenticeship numbers had fallen to about 65,000 a year across the country.
This had increased to about 240,000 a year by 2010, when Labour left office (and I was Apprenticeships Minister, incidentally).
In years gone past an apprenticeship might have been seen as a relatively narrow field, concentrated on heavy industry.
Now however, apprenticeships are as diverse as the modern economy, with good quality apprenticeships available in fields such as engineering, accountancy, business studies and video games, one of the biggest growth areas of the modern economy.
The Government has now set a very ambitious target that there should be three million apprentices by 2020 and has announced that an apprenticeships levy, to be paid by the biggest firms, will be used to pay for the costs of training an apprentice.
There is unfortunately remarkably little detail as to how this levy, due to be introduced in a year’s time, will actually work, which makes it difficult for firms and training providers like colleges to plan to implement the levy and make sure the apprenticeship target will be met.
Apprenticeships bring great advantages on a number of different levels.
For the country as a whole, having a more skilled workforce naturally improves our ability as an economy to compete in the modern world, meaning that prosperity increases and living standards for everybody rise.
For individual businesses, one of the big constraints for growth is skills shortages.
Training the workforce and ensuring the business has the skills it needs to compete through apprenticeships improves efficiency and productivity and will ultimately lead to bigger profits.
However, the big winner for apprenticeships is the individual learner.
Apprenticeships should be considered by anybody, regardless of what career they would like to do.
It can lead to a fulfilling and rewarding life, which could end up in the person taken on as an apprentice ending up running the company.
Apprentices can earn as they learn and do not rack up enormous debts as people who might well be considering university will do.
And, of course, the possibility of university is not something which ends simply because a student chooses to embark upon an apprenticeship.
Higher level and degree apprenticeships are an important part of the skills and training mix now and in the future.
We in Hartlepool are lucky in terms of the provision of apprenticeships. Hartlepool College is the biggest provider of apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds in the Tees Valley and the second biggest in the entire North East.
The apprenticeship success rate at the college is over 86 per cent, as opposed to a national success rate of 70 per cent.
The engineering apprenticeship success rate, in which Hartlepool College is particularly strong, was 91.5 per cent against a national rate of 72.7 per cent.
The College is today hosting an apprenticeship event tonight, between 5 and 7pm, in which different options with a wide range of firms can be explored.
I hope that young people will consider apprenticeships as a means of securing great training, which will ultimately lead to a successful and rewarding career.