I was delighted to join the launch of the Apprentice Card in Westminster on Wednesday.
Research by Robert Halfon MP has demonstrated that one of the worst legacies of the last Government was a generation of young people lost to benefits, or trudging endlessly round a hamster’s wheel of six-month temporary courses.
Despite the billions spent on the New Deal, for example, around 100,000 of those who left school in Tony Blair’s first term never held down a job, and are now in their thirties, having never worked in their lives.
Just one in three British workers now qualify as apprentices, or with technical skills. Whereas in France, it is one in two. And Germany is even better, with two out of three workers qualified with proper technical skills.
France and Germany are miles ahead of us, and as a result our workforce is reckoned to be 15 percent less productive.
As part of efforts to change this, the Government has this week launched the Apprentice Card. The Card will finally put apprentices on a level-playing field with academic students and other professions, giving apprentices discounts at high street stores, as well as free support services and legal advice - estimated at a value of £500. Other benefits are planned for the future, such as social events, mentoring, and careers guidance.
The NUS are supplying the card infrastructure, for a pilot scheme with the training organisations PERA, GTA England, Kaplan, the Association of Accounting Technicians, and Harlow College.
Together they represent tens of thousands of apprentices across the UK, working in companies like JCB, Jaguar Land Rover, Next clothing, Morrisons and other top British brands.
I am delighted that this card has been introduced. For apprenticeships to work, we need to change the whole culture, by giving apprentices pride and prestige. And ultimately this means giving them similar rights and benefits to academic students. The Apprentice Card is a small by significant step in the right direction.”