Emily Thornberry Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury
It’s National Apprenticeship Week, and to mark the occasion I took the opportunity yesterday to visit an apprenticeship training centre in York Way, in my constituency.
During the visit I met a number of my constituents who train at the centre. I also presented the “Apprentice of the Year” award to 17 year old Dean Riley, who lives on York Way. Dean was praised for his “dedication and enthusiasm” and was a great example of the value of apprenticeships in helping young people reach their potential.
I was really pleased to meet these youngsters and see first hand how their apprenticeships have helped develop their skills and confidence. With an 83% chance of getting a job in the construction industry or going on to further education at the end of their placement, the apprentices can develop their skills in confidence that every day takes them closer to reaching their goal.
During the visit I also saw a group of the apprentices working together on a project, discussing how to mix up concrete. It really showed how much they were learning not just the technical skills to make them an asset in the jobs market, but also how to work as part of a team. It was fantastic to see them sharing ideas, collectively solving problems and taking real pride in their work.
The King’s Cross centre provides a range of options for young people interested in starting a career in the construction industry, which is one of the most important sectors of the UK’s economy, accounting for almost 10% of employment.
It’s an industry that’s suffered in recent years as the Tory/Lib Dem government has built fewer than half the houses needed to keep up with demand, while failing to adopt a long term, strategic approach to infrastructure planning.
The construction industry also stands to lose the most if the government doesn’t get serious about providing good quality apprenticeship opportunities for young people interested in a career in the sector. Almost one in five workers in the industry are over 55 and set to retire within the next few years, while just one in ten are aged between 19 and 24.
But making a serious commitment to apprenticeships isn’t just about meeting industry’s need. It’s also a vital part of improving social mobility for the 50% of young people who don’t go to university. In the past apprentices were an important part of our culture and were highly valued as a route into well paid, rewarding work.
But under the current government the brand has suffered as standards have been allowed to fall and, with less likelihood of a guaranteed job at the end, more young people have dropped out of their training.
The next Labour government will provide a much needed boost to apprenticeships by introducing new technical degrees for young people and increasing the number of opportunities through the procurement process, requiring companies bidding for major government contracts to provide a significant number of new, high quality apprenticeships for young people.
National Apprenticeship Week is a time to celebrate the achievements of people like Dean, who remind us of the value of apprenticeships to young people starting out on their careers. But it’s also a time to renew our commitment to the apprenticeship model as a vital tool in tackling youth unemployment and social immobility while also ensuring our economy is fit to compete in the 21st century.