This week is National Apprenticeship Week. Apprenticeships are really important, a fact we recognised in Government when apprenticeships, which had fallen out of fashion, increased from 70,000 in 1997 to quarter of a million in 2010. This Government has proclaimed “apprenticeships, apprenticeships, apprenticeships” but the rhetoric is not always matched by reality. I’ve met and talked to apprentices from pharmaceuticals to fishing and I’ve seen some good practice including “buddying up”. Buddying up is where big companies take on apprentices to ensure a future supply for smaller companies and supply chains, such as Accenture supporting small IT companies. There are however problems including SME’s accessing apprenticeships and attracting younger applicants. There’s also concern for youngsters for whom apprenticeships may be a big step. Take the Northumbria Youth Action project in North Shields. They have around 100 young people on their books. Most have struggled at school and learning in a workplace environment comes as a relief for them and probably for their school. Others arrive as former NEET’s. They begin a study programme to get them work ready and some go on to apprenticeships. Yet small successful projects often find accessing funding difficult. They also face new T Levels which focus on classroom learning, often the reason they struggled at school. On top of that the Education Skills Funding Agency sometimes tends to micromanage. Apprenticeships are crucial but they, and some of the smaller providers, need to be valued.

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