As the 2015 UK general election draws closer, so does the rhetorical fracas emanating from each conflicting political party on matters that we, the public, hold dearly. One concern that is gathering significant amount of coverage of late is the subject of apprenticeships. All three parties, the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats, have been vocal about the growing need for apprenticeships, and the important role that they provide for the young and unemployed.
With the topic of apprenticeships at the forefront of political debate, the Conservatives have unveiled plans for a new apprenticeships scheme. The Conservatives’ latest apprenticeship pledge is aimed at people between the ages of 22 and 24 who have been unemployed for more than six months with the goal of eradicating long-term youth unemployment. According to David Cameron, the scheme would “train young people and get them off the dole and in to work.” The Prime Minister, if re-elected, plans for a three-year program to create 50,000 apprenticeships on top of an existing pledge to create three million apprenticeships. Interestingly, the Conservatives plan to finance this new apprenticeship scheme with bank fines. The party plans to use the money accumulated from the LIBOR scandal in which the German bank, Deutsche Bank was ordered to pay the UK Financial Conduct Authority £227million pounds in fines for misconduct related to the rigging of interest of rates. Cameron adds, “This is about taking money off those who represent Labour’s failed past; and giving to those who through their hard work and endeavour can represent a brighter Conservative future” and “about offering hope, spreading opportunity, sharing prosperity – it’s about securing a better future for you, your family and for Britain, and from now until polling day I’m going to fight for that future with every ounce of energy in my body.” According to the Financial Times, ‘Mr Cameron pledged to help 600,000 companies a year set up by 2020 as part of the Conservatives small business manifesto.’
Whilst the Conservatives aim to finance their apprenticeship scheme with the fines of global banking institutes, Labour on the other hand, has pledged to require a company winning a major government contract and any large employer hiring skilled workers from outside the EU, to offer apprenticeships focused on new entrants and lasting for at least two years. In opposition to the Conservatives, Labour has voiced a resolutely dissonant tone by consistently questioning the quantity and quality of apprenticeships available to young people since 2010. Ed Miliband broadly states, “What we see is, while this government has been trying to run a victory lap, they have been leaving the British people behind.” Labour’s discontent with the status quo, in particular, the Conservatives’ approach to apprenticeships, is reiterated by Labour’s shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna – “the Tories have failed to match Labour’s plans to guarantee an apprenticeship place for every school leaver who gets the grades and use government procurement to create thousands of new apprenticeship opportunities.” Umunna goes on to say that “one in five apprentices is receiving no formal training, while almost four in ten firms are unaware [that] the in-work training they provide is branded as an apprenticeship by the government.” Labour also disclosed that apprenticeships among the young had fallen, and stressed the need for reform within the scheme.
In a similar tone to both the Conservatives and Labour, the Liberal Democrats have gone full steam ahead and vowed to make the UK the ‘apprentice powerhouse of Europe’. The Lib Dems have said that they would double the number of employers offering apprenticeships to young people, with 360,000 firms offering on-the-job training. Nick Clegg stressed that he would not allow the Conservatives or Labour to put the recovery at risk in any coalition and that, as was the case in 2010, a Budget must be held within weeks of a new government being formed. According to the Financial Times, ‘The Liberal Democrats have promised to give 200,000 grants to employers for apprenticeships and expand the number of degree-equivalent higher apprenticeships.’ Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation, and Skills, believes that apprenticeships are important in a “world [that] is changing at an accelerated rate and we need to equip our young people with the skills they need for the future, to ensure they can compete in a global marketplace.” The Lib Dems have also said education funding guarantees would be a “deal breaker” in any negotiations with their political rivals.
The run-up to the general election is an interesting time for the realm of apprenticeships, and their position within the UK. Whether it is expansion or reform, every party within the seats of Westminster has expressed an urgent lament for the fundamental need and importance of apprenticeships. Do you agree with the Conservatives’ plans to use Deutsch Banks’s fines to fund their new apprenticeship scheme? Do you disagree with Ed Miliband’s policies of reform within the current apprenticeships schemes? Feel free to leave your comments below.