This week marks the sixth annual Apprenticeship Week; it was first launched by Labour in 2008 and is co-ordinated by the National Apprenticeship Service. It is designed to celebrate apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy.
Apprenticeships offer help to the economy and hope to our young people.
Labour had a strong track record for apprenticeships in Government; the number of apprenticeships under the Labour Government rose from 65,000 in 1996/7 to 279,700 in our final year in office and completion rates rose from a 37 per cent to 71 per cent.
Sadly, under this Government, we have seen the number of apprenticeships decline.
In my constituency alone the number of people starting an apprenticeship has fallen between 2011/12-12/13 from 1,090 to 980.
The latest unemployment statistics are shocking, they show that nearly one million young people aged between 16 and 24 are now out of work.
It does not help that there are 25,000 fewer apprentices starting than there were last year.
With so many young people without a job, investing in apprenticeships is an integral part of creating a better economy that works for everyone instead of just a few. The Tory-led Government needs to step up to provide the apprenticeships we need.
I know from speaking to young people in my constituency that apprenticeships provide a huge benefit, not only for the apprentice but also for the businesses training them. The Association of Accounting Technicians found that Last year, due to the 980 apprenticeships in my constituency, a total of £1.9m in 2012/13 was raised by local businesses.
They offer a clear path to a career for thousands of young people in our area. Unfortunately, too many are still being left behind by a Government that takes an indifferent attitude towards them and their future.
The quality, not just the number, of apprenticeships also needs to be examined.
Under the Tory government there has been a steep increase in the number of apprentices not receiving their legal minimum wage. According to a recent survey published by the government, the number of apprentices not receiving the legal apprentice minimum wage has increased by 45%.
Furthermore, one in five apprenticeships lasts for less than six months. And according to the Government’s own research, one in five apprentices report receiving neither on nor off the job training as part of their apprenticeship.
This is not good enough.
One Nation Labour will create a new universal standard for apprenticeships so that they are qualifications that employers and young people can trust. Labour would use the billions spent through public procurement to boost apprenticeship opportunities by requiring companies bidding for larger contracts to offer apprenticeships. The Government has refused to do this and voted down a Labour motion to make this happen.