Why we need to become a ‘vocation nation’

15 June 2017 -


The UK must make apprenticeships as prestigious as an Oxbridge place

Robert Halfon

My dream is for Britain to become an ‘apprenticeships and skills nation’, where people of all ages and backgrounds can get their foot on the ladder of opportunity. One extremely important part of this is raising the prestige of apprenticeships.

Choosing an apprenticeship shouldn’t be a second-rate alternative to, for example, going to university. I want to walk into a room and hear apprenticeships talked about with the same respect as a degree from Oxford or Cambridge.

While quality apprenticeships are now available in a range of industries and levels, we have more work to do. For too long there has been an underinvestment in Britain’s skills, and it has never been more important for us to ensure we have home-grown talent to call on.

This is why the apprenticeship levy is so important. We will invest £2.5bn in apprenticeships by 2019-20 – double the amount spent in 2010-11.

With more money than ever, we will be helping people across the country get into more and better-quality training and jobs. We are also ensuring a step change in quality, giving employers the highly skilled workforce they have been crying out for.

But it is not just up to the government. Employers are a huge part of this – nobody understands the skills that employers need better than they do. That’s why we are calling on employers to invest in skills through the levy, but it is also why an essential part of our reforms involves groups of employers designing new apprenticeships.

‘Trailblazers’, as they are known, will set out the skills, knowledge and behaviours that they know are essential to their business. So it is not just about investing money; we are being rigorous and focusing on quality.

A new organisation – the Institute for Apprenticeships – is already ensuring every apprenticeship meets quality standards. Independently led, it has employers at its heart.

It is clear, then, that we have come a long way. I am extremely proud, for example, that 90% of all apprentices go on to work or further learning after they have completed an apprenticeship.

It is genuinely fantastic that apprenticeship participation stands at nearly 900,000 – the highest figure on record – and it is an amazing achievement that there have been 780,000 apprenticeships started since May 2015. April has been a significant month for apprenticeships and our reforms.

Besides the apprenticeship levy and the Institute for Apprenticeships, the new Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers is in place and Trailblazers are working tirelessly to ensure there is a quality apprenticeship out there for almost every industry.

But we won’t stop there. Our direction for the future is clear: we are changing behaviours, raising the prestige of apprenticeships and ensuring that everyone has a chance to get on the ladder of opportunity and fulfil their potential.

Robert Halfon MP is former minister for apprenticeships and skills