Steve Beasant

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Gordon Birtwistle writes… Careers advice should reflect the value of apprenticeships

by Steve Beasant on 6 December, 2013

The following article was written by Gordon Birtwistle MP and was published on Wednesday  (4th December) on the Liberal Democrat Voice Website.

Apprenticeships are just a valuable as degrees – careers advice is vital to ensure this message is heard.

As Government Apprenticeship Ambassador to Business, my job is to advocate and promote apprenticeships to businesses, young people and schools across the country; working closely with the National Apprenticeship Service and BIS.

Over the next two years (and in the upcoming months) I will be visiting more schools, training providers, businesses including small and medium enterprises and apprentices to hear from a range of people and to establish how the Government can improve on apprenticeships.

So far we have been up and down the country looking at fantastic schemes at Nissan, Rolls Royce, British Airways, Heathrow, KMF, Barclays, Prysmian Cables, Metroline, Family Mosaic, Aston Martin and many more. I have met with hundreds of companies across various industries and there seems to be a major sticking point which has come up time and time again.

Firstly, we have found that parents and teachers are not giving apprenticeships enough credit and in some cases are discouraging young people from doing them. There is a stigma in our society, created by Tony Blair’s Labour Government, that degrees are the only way to get far in life and every young person should aspire to go to University. That convinced parents that if you haven’t been to university you have failed. Believe me, if you haven’t been to university you certainly have not failed and we have to change that idea among parents.

At the same time, there are many unemployed graduates yet we have a huge skills shortage in engineering and the manufacturing sector. This is because not enough young people are being attracted to this industry which is something else we are working on; to make engineering attractive and remove the stereotype of an engineer as ‘a man in overalls’. I believe that the best way of reaching out to people is for each of us to become an apprenticeship ambassador including the shining examples of successful apprentices and to go in to schools, make use of social media and spread this message to people. It is only then we will see any sort of attitude shift.

The sticking point with careers advice is that there is a lack of it. Most schools which give careers advice do it internally – assigning teachers to give it when most of them have only ever been teachers. We need independent careers advisors from companies like Aston Martin to go into schools and inform young people about the opportunities and different sectors there are out there. An example of this is Lesley Burrows from Burnley, who set up the Job Junction which is a virtual job centre, informing Burnley school students about the jobs and industries available in Burnley so that young people know about all the different types of jobs and vacancies there are in their local area.

In my view, Apprenticeships are the way forward. They provide on-the-job training and offer a wage with a career at the end of it. There are a lot of young people under pressure to go to university and study subjects for which there is a shortage of jobs. I have discovered a lot on my apprentice journey so far and have met some incredible young people. I have been working hard to try to convince Lord Tony Hall at the BBC to produce a TV programme called the ‘real apprentice’ in order for the nation to witness that apprentices are real assets to companies and the opportunities there are out there. I write a monthly report to the Prime Minister and inform senior colleagues of my findings so now I am keen to share them through Lib Dem Voice to give apprentices a voice for they are our nation’s best kept secret, and I want to start telling it.

Gordon Birtwistle is Member of Parliament for Burnley, Chair of Lib Dem Parliamentary Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, co-founder of the Lib Dem Campaign for Manufacturing and and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships.

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