Now, more than ever before, obtaining the right skills will be the passport to success in life and career.
There has been a lot of talk in recent months about growing levels of automation and the “rise of the robots”, taking all our jobs. Clearly, this is prone to a bit of hysteria, but it is fair to say that those with qualifications will fare much better, with higher wages and a better quality of life, than those without.
This part of the world has always appreciated the value of “getting a good trade” and the significance of an apprenticeship to help people, especially young people, onto the career ladder. As the economy changed in the 1980s, and heavy industry either cut back or closed altogether, the status of apprenticeships were devalued, even disregarded.
Thankfully, over the past 15 years, this has changed, and successive governments have increased the importance of apprenticeships. I was privileged to be Apprenticeships Minister for a time, and saw at first hand the great range of apprenticeships and the way they have the ability to transform lives for the better.
To its credit, the present Government has followed on this path and expressed its ambition to see three million apprenticeships started by 2020. To help achieve this, and to pay for the costs of training, the Government introduced an Apprenticeship Levy. Businesses with a payroll bill of £3 million or more are required to pay for this Levy. Given the relatively high number of large firms as part of the North East economy, the Levy will impact a lot in the region.
It is now exactly six months since the Levy was introduced. As ever, the devil is in the detail. When I speak to local businesses, a large number don’t really know how they will ensure the Levy will work. This is not the fault of business: Government hasn’t made it clear. There is so much turmoil and change within the training system, on top of other uncertainties such as Brexit, that firms, trying to win orders, pay the wage bill and secure market share could be forgiven for not following this policy to the letter.
There is a real need for businesses to have more information and support on the Apprenticeship Levy. The real danger is that without such support the Levy will be written off by companies as merely another tax on business, and failing to ensure it achieves its laudable ambition – to secure the future skills this country needs.
Iain Wright, NEPIC chief executive, writing for the Northern Echo