A Labour government would boost the number of school-leavers becoming apprentices to match the number going to university by 2025, it was announced today.
In a speech to his Party conference in Manchester, Labour leader Ed Miliband said improving apprenticeships was one of his “national goals” as part of a 10-year plan to transform the UK.
Introducing delegates to an apprentice electrician named Elizabeth, Mr Miliband said: “She is one of the lucky few. Elizabeth’s school helped her to get an apprenticeship but so many other schools don’t do that.
“In fact a lot of young people I meet who are on apprenticeships say ‘my school said apprenticeships are rubbish and they wouldn’t help me, but now I’m doing it and it’s really great for me.’
“But frankly there aren’t enough of them and they aren’t high-quality enough,” he added.
The University and College Union (UCU) welcomed the emphasis on apprenticeships, but called on all parties to go further to improve vocational education.
General secretary Sally Hunt said: “We want people to see an apprenticeship as a genuine alternative to university. However, for that to happen we need proper funding for our colleges who will play a key role in delivering high-quality apprenticeships.”
The British Chambers of Commerce called the announcement “encouraging”, but said it was less convinced that a meaningful target could be set for the share of people enrolled in the programmes.
Kirstie Donnelly, UK managing director of City & Guilds, said all parties should have work-based learning on their agenda ahead of next year’s general election. “However what’s important to focus on is the quality of apprenticeships, not just the quantity,” she said.
“What we need now are details from Labour about how these additional apprenticeships will be created and how they intend to ensure that quality remains high.
“We know from experience that simply promising more apprenticeships is not enough. We need schools to offer robust careers advice so young people are aware of their options and we also need to see businesses work with awarding bodies to ensure consistent high-quality training.”
The announcement is the latest in a series of FE policies from Labour in recent months, which has included plans to transform top-performing FE colleges in England into "institutes of technical education” to deliver the Tech Bacc qualification, and new “technical degrees” backed by employers and universities to help the “forgotten 50 per cent who do not go on to higher education".
Labour proposes new 'technical degrees' – July 2014