The Tories idea of apprenticeships is a means to an end. The end is not to produce a highly skilled young person who will be able to command not just the living wage, but a wage that will enable them to provide for a young family (should they choose to) and get on the housing ladder. Instead the end is to drive down wages for other workers and to de professionalise important public sector jobs.
Yorkshire Ambulance Trust are a prime example of the real Tory agenda for apprentices. These young people, due to their apprentice status are exempt from the protection of the minimum wage. They are expected to drive vulnerable, and sometimes non appropriate adults across the region, often alone. If a shift needs covering at short notice, there is the firm expectation that they fill in, for no extra money. They fulfil tick box tasks in order to obtain a qualification that is worth, “nothing”. There is no job at the end of it, but the young person does not show up on any stats that may embarrass the Government.
But if you are a connected Tory young person then you can follow Ruth Barron (20) and Jacob Double (19) and be an apprentice at Conservative HQ. Tory Chair Grant Shapps proved just how totally out of touch he really was when the two young people were unveiled to the media in February 2014. Jacob is the son of a Tory Parliamentary candidate, and Ruth says on twitter that she is an intern for a Tory MP. We have nothing against these two but really Grant, satire is alive and well in what Shapps calls (again whilst keeping a straight face) the new Workers Party.
Apprenticeships can not really have meaning in a service led economy. They should be about producing a workforce that is highly skilled and well paid. The young person should have something concrete to offer society and in return they should be rewarded for their contribution.
We have a situation where a highly educated lab scientist has spent time since graduation not developing her skills in an apprentice role at a pharmaceutical company, or in a research lab at a University honing what she has learnt in a practical environment, but working in a call centre where she is forced to chuck soft balls at her supervisor to “celebrate” closing a sale. If a person calls to report a bereavement, she is still expected to sell a product during the call. Is this what we are reducing our best young people to? Does Shapps and his like really know what is going on with our youngsters? Does the Labour Party front bench know? If not they should. This is a scandal of monstrous proportions that blights our nation and calls into question the very nature of where we are going as an economy, and as a society.
The dysfunctional housing market, and the energy sector offer the best hopes for our lost 18-30 generation. We have endured a catastrophic fall in house building which in 2013 produced the lowest new builds since 1924. “This erosion of the construction skills base will lead to a serious shortage of suitably skilled tradesmen. Previous recessions show that once people leave the construction industry they tend not come back to it when the economy recovers meaning that their skills are lost to the industry on a permanent basis. Even conservative estimates suggest that we have already lost 125,000 skilled workers from the sector. Allowing the skills base to deteriorate in this way risks holding back the recovery” , reported the Association of Master Builders in 2011.
If we utilise that dormant skills base by embarking on the massive house building programme that the UK desperately needs, we can up skill our youngsters with meaningful apprenticeships. Not only that, but we can then encourage them to come together to form their own small businesses and branch out with the confidence that they have the right skills, and where necessary the access to credit provided by a stable and well regulated Banking Sector.
The Ukraine crisis in the spring of 2014 threw the issue of energy security right back into the mix. We have called for the government to be imaginative in this sector, working with Spain on solar power at international level. As regards wind, and other renewables including tidal those local authorities that have the right port and access to the sea should be coming together to invest in their own factories to build the materials instead of waiting for non existent foreign investors such as Siemens. Again the opportunity for our young people to be trained to lead the world in innovation is there.
We burn more coal in the UK than we did in 1984, but it is imported and often of poor quality. There are vast reserves under Britain of high quality coal just waiting for innovative ways to clean it up via carbon capture as well as high tech mining systems so that we don’t have to send our youngsters down t’pit. Instead they can be inventing and operating the best equipment ever seen in the industry and exporting it. Security, jobs and economic innovation as well as diversification away from reliance on Mac Jobs and the financial sector. Sounds like a plan.