OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on apprenticeships as an alternative to university

(Newspaper column as seen in The Pigeon in February 2020)

Last month (Jan) I met with the new Principal of City of Bristol College, Andy Forbes. I’ve worked very closely with the college over the past few years and will continue to do so as Andy takes charge.

As regular readers of The Pigeon will know, post-16 education is one of the areas I focus on here in Bristol South. It has a crucial role in helping young people go on to secure quality jobs and fruitful careers and the college and apprenticeships have a key role to play in this.

Andy and I talked about a number of issues, including the need for a wider range of options, such as A Levels, for students in South Bristol and the importance of further education in terms of social mobility. We talked about the work shortly due to start on the Advanced Construction Skills Centre in Hengrove and what it will mean for people in Bristol South. More on that in a future column.

This month, will see the fourth installment of the South Bristol Jobs and Apprenticeships Fair which I run with the City of Bristol College and Bristol City Council. I started the event after it became clear that people living south of the river were having to travel north for these type of events.

We have lots of challenges around education here in Bristol South. As I write this column, we’re awaiting the latest UCAS figures on how many 18-year-olds from Bristol South went onto university last year (2019). In previous years, this constituency has been bottom of the table in terms of how many school leavers go onto university. As well as looking at why this is and helping more young people access higher education, we also need to explore alternatives.

Quality apprenticeships have a significant role to play in this. They are a great way to earn while you learn – combining paid work experience with vital classroom-based learning – and can lead to degree level qualifications. I’ve spoken to many apprentices over the years at my apprenticeship fairs, each speaking very highly of the scheme they’re on and the path it’s led them down. Always great to hear.

The 2020 South Bristol Jobs & Apprenticeship Fair, which takes place at the South Bristol Skills Academy in Hengrove from 11am-3pm on Thursday 27 February, brings together some of the area’s biggest employers, training providers and other organisations which support people into work and apprenticeships. It’s free to attend and there’s no need to book so please do come along and find out more. All welcome – students, parents, grandparents and older people looking to re-enter the workplace or re-train. I hope to see you there!