It’s all change in Westminster....
As the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills gives way to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, (how is BEIS pronounced?), and the DfE takes control of apprenticeships, further and higher Education. But what will this mean for employers with, or who want, apprentices?
It’s a fair summation that employers have seen the business department as being better at listening to them than the DfE - at least in the past. They have also seen the transition from learning to earning as more of a crash course in acquiring an urgent dose of life skills - which formal education seemed to think was the job of employers alone to administer. UK manufacturers have always played their part, offering work experience, apprenticeships, traineeships and getting into schools to make the change from education to the workplace less of a shock and more of a natural step. So, they will be keen to support the new Department for Apprenticeships and the Apprentice champion in Government, Robert Halfon MP, our new skills Minister.
For manufacturers, apprenticeships are part of their DNA - they need skills, so they train – and they train, predominantly, from a young age. The D for A will find manufacturers a natural supporter. Manufacturers invest in people, for the long term, from the widest range of backgrounds. The vast majority of the cost, they bear themselves, and they see apprentices as people. Apprentices who complete an apprenticeship overwhelmingly stay with their employer. Apprenticeships should never be seen as route to cheap training or lower wages – EEF has consistently called the apprentices minimum wage to be scrapped.
So what will manufacturers look for in their new Minister?
The D for A needs to carry forward the strong business engagement on apprenticeships already in place. Every apprentice needs an employer – it’s not like formal education, so employers need to be at the heart of policymaking. We need a change in the way vocational training is seen in, and by, schools. It’s not a second choice or a poor relation. And part of flying the flag for apprenticeships will mean more all employers getting stuck in. Raising standards and paying more.
The message then to our new Minister is clear – you can count on manufacturers’ support to make apprenticeships a marque of quality, and not a poor relation to academic training. We already pay to train, and future changes to standards, funding and the levy must always reward the employers who already do the right thing. Manufacturers already invest over the long term, get into schools, and train apprentices from all backgrounds and don’t just cherry pick. They have a social conscience. In return, the D for A will need to listen and show support, which will include changes to the levy, which is on course to send a chill through manufacturer’s recruitment plans and is being seen a tax on jobs. Get it right, and employers will back the new D for A. Get it wrong, and many will be turned off for years to come.