February 11th, 2023
Written by John Grogan
Keighley is a proud manufacturing town with many medium and small employers still very much the backbone of the local economy. This week is National Apprenticeship Week. On Friday I attended the Labour Party Northern Skills Conference in Heckmondwike with Lord David Blunkett as the main speaker. My friends Hugh Goulbourne and Kim Leadbeater MP for Batley and Spen organised the event.
The Evening Standard this week explained how the current apprenticeship system works and how many businesses believe it is failing...
"The apprenticeship levy taxes employers 0.5% of their payroll each month if they have a wage bill of more than £3 million a year. Businesses paying into the pot can use this money to fund apprenticeship training schemes.
Four leading trade bodies have called the apprenticeship system “broken” and have written to the Government asking for reform.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), UKHospitality, techUK and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation said the system is restrictive as businesses cannot use the money to fund courses shorter than a year and £3.5 billion is being wasted as a result".
This week Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer detailed Labour’s plans for reform.
He argued the Government’s apprenticeship levy system is failing to provide enough skilled workers for 40,000 manufacturers.
In Keighley the number of people starting apprenticeship was down by 25% between 2011/12 and 2021/22. According to official figures there were 880 apprentices in 2011/12 and only 660 in 2021/22. Yet employers in the Constituency tell me that a shortage of skilled Labour is one of the main constraints on growth.
Sir Keir pledged to change the way the levy is spent and to create a new body called Skills England.
He suggested a broader ‘skills and growth levy' which would allow businesses to fund courses that are shorter, more targeted and more tailored as well as traditional apprenticeships.
He also pledged to devolve power over skills to the Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin instead of all the decisions being made in Whitehall.
The Conference also heard that the Government are phasing in new vocational qualifications called T Levels which are designed to be the equivalent of A Levels. Whilst T levels are a good idea the problem is that from 2024 the Tories are proposing to stop funding many BTEC diplomas and Level 3 qualifications in further education colleges like Keighley. These are very valuable courses which provide a leg up into education for many people and I spoke to Lord Blunkett about his efforts to get the Government to think again on this point.