Euan Blair: 'Apprenticeships should be for smart kids too'

Entrepreneur son of former prime minister sets out his vision to ‘transform post-16 education’ through apprenticeship provider, WhiteHat

Stephen Exley

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Apprenticeships should be targeted at the most academically successful students in order to boost the esteem in which work-based training is held, Euan Blair has said.

In his first media interview, the son of former prime minister Tony Blair told TES that he had created training provider WhiteHat in order to “transform post-16 education”.

As well as directly delivering apprenticeships, the company acts as a matchmaker, signing up students with strong academic grades and pairing them up with companies looking to bolster their recruitment away from the usual graduate market.

According to its Twitter account, WhiteHat, run by Mr Blair and chief commercial officer Ash Ahmad,  offers the “Ivy League of apprenticeships”.

“If [apprenticeships are] going to be taken seriously, they can’t just be seen as the option for kids who aren’t that academically bright, who were never going to go to university anyway,” Mr Blair said. “We want a situation where smart kids, who could go to Oxbridge or Russell Group universities, have to make a difficult decision: ‘Do I go down that route, or do I join this incredible apprenticeship scheme at a top UK corporate or really exciting tech start-up?’”

'Long-term plan'

In some cases, WhiteHat advises employers not to use the word “apprenticeship” at all, he added. “We’re telling them: don’t make [apprentices] a special class of employee. Try and integrate them into, say, your existing graduate scheme. In some cases, don’t even brand them as apprenticeships. Make it part of a broader early careers programme. Give them the same kind of benefits, give them the same kind of employment contract, similar terms, pay them a similar level, because then you’ve not got that distinction and stigma.”

And Mr Blair insisted that, despite repeated media speculation, he has no plans to leave his new venture to follow in his father’s footsteps and run for Parliament.

“The aim is here, right, to transform post-16 education, and to do that in a way we feel is really effective,” he said.  “Now, we see this as a long-term plan. There’s nothing else in the pipeline; no plans to do anything else. This is going to be a battle. It is, because the fact is the brand of apprenticeships isn’t where it needs to be; be it with schools, be it with employers, be it with parents. You can’t change that overnight.” 

This is an edited version of an article in the 6 January edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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