Former Labour and Conservative ministers Lord Knight and Lord Willetts launched an “urgent” inquiry, supported by EngineeringUK, in January this year after it was revealed that the number of people starting engineering and manufacturing technologies apprenticeships had declined by 34% in nine years. Engineering-related apprenticeship starts were 12.3% lower than 2016-17.
Today (16 October), the two lords and EngineeringUK released a new plan aimed at tackling the issue. Based on insights from businesses, education providers and young people, the report contains five policy recommendations for politicians to consider. It calls on government, employers and apprenticeship providers to urgently work together to ‘rebalance and refocus’ apprenticeships and make them more accessible for young people.
Lord Knight, former minister for education and employment, said: “Despite 20 years of reviews and reform, Britain is lagging behind our competitors in developing the skilled workforce we need to engineer a prosperous future. This failure to better link schools and skills wastes the great potential of our young people. I hope this bold and practical set of recommendations will be listened to by policymakers and practitioners and finally fix this problem.”
Lord Willetts, former minister for universities and science, said: “Engineering is key for the British economy. Engineering apprentices and university graduates enjoy some of the higher earnings of any group. This report shows how we can encourage a wider range of young people into engineering and provide them with more opportunities for education and training. We hope our report will be drawn on by all the political parties."
The five recommendations are:
- Rebalance education
“Ensure that the secondary school system is fit for the future and there is genuine parity of esteem between technical and academic pathways.” Recommendations cover curriculum, BTECs, English Baccalaureate (EBacc) and careers
- Support young people
“Provide better support for young people throughout their apprenticeship journey and take decisive action to break down barriers.” Recommendations cover pre-apprenticeship support, benefits, transport and functional skills
- Refocus funding
“Ensure long-term funding and greater equity between vocational and academic routes.” Recommendations include funding degree apprenticeships through the standard higher education fees and loans model, and funding apprenticeships for 16-19-year-olds through an increase in the Education and Skills Funding Agency budget
- Enable businesses
“Enable more SMEs to play an active role in apprenticeships. Work together with employers as well as providers to ensure that engineering and technology apprenticeship standards are given the strategic importance they merit and meet the skills needs of the sector.” Recommendations also cover residential options
- Employers taking action
“Encourage employers to play their part in growing and sustaining apprenticeships for the future and to help widen opportunities for young people.”
Hilary Leevers, chief executive of EngineeringUK, said: “For engineering and technology to thrive, we urgently need more people and more diversity in our workforce. Apprenticeships offer a fantastic route for young people into rewarding and purposeful engineering and tech jobs, so it’s vital that they are fit for purpose. The recommendations in this report present practical actions for government, employers and sector organisations to improve the esteem, accessibility, structure, and funding and, ultimately, uptake of apprenticeships.”
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