Creating a national living wage for apprentices would place the programme at the heart of a movement for “social justice” in British society, Rob Halfon has claimed.
In his first interview since being appointed apprenticeships and skills minister, Mr Halfon also told TES that he wanted to make apprenticeships more accessible for single parents, disabled people and the unemployed.
And the new minister spoke of his desire for a Royal Society of Apprentices to be created to boost the esteem in which work-based training is held.
“You can have all of the government policies in the world, but none of it will matter unless you change the culture and way apprentices are seen,” he said. “My dream is that if someone says at a dinner that they’re doing an apprenticeship and another person says they’ve been to Oxbridge, that people will be more impressed by the apprentice than the person who goes to Oxbridge ... We need to explain why apprentices are important. It’s not just about economic productivity, which, of course, is central to the country because our productivity is not as high as it should be. It’s also a matter of social justice.”
Mr Halfon said that his ministerial role at the Department for Education was his “dream job” in government, given his long-held passion for apprenticeships.
And while his precise ministerial duties have yet to be officially confirmed, Mr Halfon stressed that there was “nothing sinister” behind this uncertainty and that he had already met the civil servants who would be working under him. While the minister acknowledged that the successful implementation of the apprenticeship levy was the “single most important” aspect of his new role, he told TES he could not confirm when long-awaited guidance on it would be published.
Mr Halfon also said he would be working to support the unemployed, single parents and disabled people to get into apprenticeships without them being financially penalised as a result by having their benefits cut. “It makes it impossible for an aspirational single parent on low income to do this,” he said. “I want to see how we can change that. It may be very difficult, but I want to see if it’s possible.”
The minister also said he hoped to work with the Living Wage Foundation to create a voluntary living wage for apprentices. At present, they are excluded from the mandatory national living wage for workers aged 25 and over, set at £7.20 per hour.
And while he acknowledged concerns in FE colleges about the rising number of GCSE retakes in English and maths, Mr Halfon said that achieving a good standard of literacy and numeracy was non-negotiable.
“In the world that we live in, it is just essential to have basic levels of maths and English…My view is that it has to be done,” he added.
This is an edited version of an article from the 5 August 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 This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents.
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