As the end of the school year looms, Andrew Cooksley Managing Director of ACT Training, explains why time is of the essence for Wales’ new Assembly members to make good of their pre-election promises.
Around 35,000 16 year-olds will finish school in Wales next month, meaning time is of the essence for the newly elected in Wales to make good on the pre-ballot promises made around apprenticeships.
With all parties pledging an increase in apprenticeships, the need to boost numbers is evidently a fundamental factor in securing a better economy for Wales from anyone’s perspective.
As Wales’ leading training provider, any pledge to improve on the overall availability of apprenticeships is certainly welcomed by ACT Training and no doubt fellow providers nationwide. But when it comes to making these promises really work, and within the timescales necessary to make a difference now, we face a task more complex than simply introducing more apprenticeships.
There is already a huge range of apprenticeships on offer enabling young people to build a career and work towards nationally recognised qualifications, including degree level. Far too many young people pursue an apprenticeship after dropping out of college or university, however, which is an expensive way to do things. We need apprenticeships to be a first choice, and impartial careers advice in schools is a far cheaper and efficient use of money.
We need to attract more talented and more able young people onto the hundreds of apprenticeship opportunities we have with great employers across Wales. This will only take place when schools and parents see the value of their children undertaking apprenticeships.
In addition to this only 12% of employers in Wales are involved in apprenticeships in comparison to the likes of Germany, for example, where 50% of employers are engaged with apprenticeships programmes. Apprenticeships are obviously integral to the education and recruitment systems, and have undoubtedly played a part in Germany’s economic success, which is something we should all look to replicate.
The new Apprenticeship Levy due to take effect here in the UK next year will also have an impact on large employers, which combined with adjustments still being made in light of the recent rise in minimum wage has given business owners a great deal of food for thought as they look towards 2017.
With confirmation of how the Levy will pan out practically for large businesses still to be outlined, it will be imperative for employers to connect more fully with young people well before the transition takes place. Employers should ideally be ramping up their communications with young people throughout the rest of 2016 and making sure apprenticeship provision forms a key part of their recruitment strategy for the next financial year and beyond.
With fully-funded training opportunities currently available to Level 1 trainees aged 16-18 and Level 3 apprentices aged 16 to 24, as well as those of any age accessing Level 4 and 5 Higher Apprenticeships, the Welsh Government also has a vital role to play in making sure this happens, therefore. Only by ensuring employers remain fully aware of the support on offer and stay fully engaged when it comes to accessing top quality training, businesses are more likely to stick with vocational education when it comes to making a real difference to their workforce and filling their skills gaps regardless of the additional barriers involved.
Even though there is much to improve on, Wales is still leading the UK when it comes to delivering successful apprenticeship programmes. The apprenticeship success rate in Wales has grown to an impressive 84% – considerably higher than the 69% success rate in England – meaning we need to stay at the top of our game and continue to lead the way over the next five years and beyond in order to secure the future of Wales.
Gaining public support and winning election is undoubtedly a positive step towards standing up for what you believe in, but when it comes to effecting real change the stakes are undoubtedly higher and the complications often endless. Decisions need to be made and action taken now for our future economy to be secured. For the sake of our young people, we can but hope the newly elected are game for the challenge.
Andrew Cooksley, Managing Director of ACT Training