Apprenticeships offer an opportunity lifeline, but where is the detail?

Small & medium sized businesses in the dark, MP tells Budget debate

Budget debate 22 March 2016A Bristol MP says apprenticeships offer an ‘opportunity lifeline’ for people living in her constituency, but that local small and medium businesses find their role in government plans to achieve a target of 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020 remains ‘sketchy’.

Speaking in the House of Commons Budget debate (22 March 2016) Karin Smyth said she supports the government target. “It’s an ambitious target, but we should be ambitious for our young people,” she said, pledging to do what she can to help the Government reach it.

Scroll down to watch Karin Smyth’s speech in full

“Apprenticeships and training are the route to a better future for so many people living in our communities,” some of which are the most economically deprived in the whole country.

“Whilst South Bristol isn’t home to a huge number of large companies there are very many small and medium-sized firms (SMEs) based here, owned by and employing local residents. I am particularly interested in the role SMEs can play in the delivery plan.”

But she said local SMEs that want to get involved and play a part in meeting the target remain in the dark about how the government’s apprenticeship levy will work, and how they will be able to take advantage of them.

She asked the Government to guarantee that every penny the levy is expected to raise will be invested back into improving training and apprenticeship opportunities, and that SMEs will have their fair share. She also asked “that the special and unique opportunities and challenges that SMEs bring to the apprenticeship table will be fully taken into account.”

The Labour MP has issued an open call to SMEs in Bristol South to set out their ambitions for the shape of apprenticeship schemes over the next decade – to outline challenges they feel they currently face in offering quality training, and to offer their own vision for the way apprenticeship schemes should operate to most usefully assist local firms in the future.

During the Budget debate she repeated calls she had made earlier this month directly to the Prime Minister to accelerate the publication of the detailed action plan to explain how the target will be met, how the levy will work, and other fine details, “so I can work in Bristol South alongside employers, colleges and other training providers to promote and encourage full engagement.”

She also expressed concerns about the realism of the 3 million target by 2020. “There is a genuine danger that an apparently arbitrary target like this one risks a dangerous trade-off between quantity and quality,” she said.

“I want to help the Government reach its ambitious target, but it’s currently really hard for me and for other key Bristol South stakeholders to generate enthusiasm and constructive tone while everything remains so sketchy,” she added.

Watch Karin Smyth’s contribution to the debate in full here: