All employers should offer apprenticeships and work experience, says education secretary

7 Jul 2017 By Marianne Calnan

Justine Greening calls on businesses to push the ‘skills revolution for Brexit Britain’

The education secretary has called on all employers to offer apprenticeships and work experience placements in an effort to upskill future talent.

Speaking at the British Chambers of Commerce’s (BCC) Business and Education Summit 2017 in London yesterday, Justine Greening said organisations and government must work together to create “an army of skilled young people for British business”, particularly given fears that the UK could face a skills crisis once it leaves the EU. 

Greening called this skills transformation the Conservative Party’s “real strategy on migration – to develop homegrown talent”, adding that Britain had been importing skills rather than creating them. “It’s how we put our country’s destiny back in our own hands,” she said.

The education secretary, who is also the women and equalities minister, provided more details of the government’s 15 T-level qualifications, including outlining the three-month work placements the courses require to make sure young people are “work-ready and can deliver from day one in the businesses they join”. 

“Great companies need great people,” Greening said. “Alongside apprenticeships, T-levels will form the basis of our new technical education system.”

T-levels will be rolled out after September 2019 but will not be fully implemented until 2022. 

Although Greening said the government was well on its way to meeting its three million apprenticeships target, with one million starts since May 2015, the quality of apprenticeships and work experience placements have recently come under fire.

Earlier this year, Pret A Manger was forced to backtrack on plans to offer unpaid work experience to counteract an anticipated post-Brexit recruitment crisis. The sandwich chain had planned to offer 500 week-long work experience opportunities to 16 to 18-year-olds, but faced media backlash when it transpired that the roles were unpaid, with several customers threatening boycotts. Pret later confirmed that it would pay future 16 to 18-year-old interns its starting hourly salary of £7.85 in London and £7.65 outside London. 

Also speaking at the BCC event, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn set out his party’s plans to offer free further education courses through a national education service in a bid to avoid another “lost decade” for workers. 

During his keynote speech, Corbyn outlined the fundamental role the state has in maximising the business and worker-centric benefits of automation and technological changes. Although he said he was not a "doom monger", he stressed that the UK must acknowledge the unavoidable reality that new technology will lead to the loss of jobs and potentially the demise of entire industries.

The opposition leader added that he thought the rise of the machines could usher in a wealth of new opportunities and the emergence of "as yet unforeseen forms of work" requiring a different set of skills.

“Whether that happens at huge social cost or is embraced and benefits everybody depends on managing and planning for technological change,” he said. “That means we will need to invest in a step change in skills and training to upgrade the skills of the existing workforce and make sure everyone is able to retrain at any point though a free national education service to meet the changing needs of the economy, allowing smooth transitions between education and work.”

But, speaking on a later panel, Sir Vince Cable said he believed productivity had “disappeared from political debate” and that issues around the lack of skills, innovation and investment were now on the back-burner behind Brexit negotiations.

“There is a big cultural problem around the lack of understanding of alternative forms of education and training to university,” the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham and former business secretary said. “It’s not part of the national thinking.”

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