Ipswich MP: We need to promote apprenticeships as well as university

Advice to secondary school pupils: Talk to careers advisers, and research education and training pos

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt is keen to see vocational career routes and apprenticeships well promoted - Credit: goodluz - stock.adobe.com

I have spoken before about how in favour I am of apprenticeships and how I believe that more needs to be done to promote high quality technical and vocational education.

When it comes to the number of young people going on to pursue apprenticeships or technical education post-16, we are lagging behind many competitors - in particular countries such as Germany and Canada, which have a far superior offering.

The headlong rush to hit the 50% target for all young people to go to university - initiated by the last Labour government - was, in my view, a mistake and I’m glad that this government has made it clear that it will no longer be pursuing such a target.

University can be a great thing for many young people and mature students, but it must not be seen as the be all and end all.

The reality is that there are many young people going to university who are increasingly asking themselves: “Have I made the right decision?” 

Life will be different for University of Suffolk students from September. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Tom Hunt believes university is right for many people - but that: 'It must not be seen as the be all and end all' - Credit: Archant

Often the answer will be yes but, sadly, there will be occasions where the answer is no.

This is particularly the case this year, when so many university students have seen their education severely disrupted by Covid-19.

Most Read

Personally, I think that students should get significant refunds and should not be required to pay full whack for tuition fees and for student accommodation they often haven’t even been living in.

However, pandemic aside, there are other reasons why many students are reflecting upon whether they made the right decision or not.

Sadly, many are accumulating significant student debts that they will be paying off for most of their adult lives and often come out with a qualification that may not be the springboard they were hoping to a successful and well remunerated career.

A concerning statistic presented to me by the government this week, which really underlines this, was that in 2019 only 66% of graduates were in high-skilled employment.

Yet at the same time, when I talk to local businesses who are creating well-paid jobs in key growth sectors, they often complain about there not being enough skills locally and how difficult they find it to engage with the education system.

Ultimately, what we need to try and aspire for is an education system that caters for all and where there are multiple pathways.

Yes, this should include a solid academic pathway that leads to the option of going to university, but it should also a solid technical education route. And this requires promotion of apprenticeships and technical education within our schools, curriculum and careers advice.

We mustn’t have a situation where, due to a lack of awareness of apprenticeships and technical education, we have a number of young people ending up in university when that may not be the right path for them.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt. Picture: PAUL GEATER

'Young people should know that what they are learning throughout their education is preparing them for the competitive job market,' says Ipswich MP Tom Hunt - Credit: Archant

It is encouraging to see that the Further Education White Paper, published last week, picks up on a lot of this.

In the White Paper, the government plans to make independent careers advice compulsory from the lower age group of Year 7.

The first port of call for many young people when it comes to their future career are their parents, but a recent survey disclosed that only 28% of parents feel confident advising their children about apprenticeships. This drops to 21% when it comes to technical and vocational options.

This is why it is essential that the government is serious about signposting apprenticeships and technical education from an early stage and making it clear that the academic and the technical pathway have equal status. This careers advice must be truly independent and local business must be involved in it.

The cornerstone of the government’s new White Paper is the new “Lifetime Skills Guarantee”, which will make it possible for adults to change career and acquire new skills with loans for anyone wanting to undertake high Level 4-5 qualifications. It will also allow anyone who doesn’t have an A-level or equivalent Level 3 qualification to secure such a qualification free of charge. This is all incredibly positive.

However, what excites me the most are the “Local Skills Improvement Plans”, which the government will kick off with a few pilots before hopefully extending across the country.

These plans will place local business at the heart of the local skills agenda. The aim is to create a “German-style model” that links colleges with employers to ensure that education and training is much better suited to local skills needs.

All of these plans are being backed with additional funding and it is my view that local businesses should have an explicit role in designing further education courses to shape the curriculum.

Young people should know that what they are learning throughout their education is preparing them for a competitive job market.

And if we look at our local jobs market, there are many exciting opportunities in key growth sectors. A few examples are the tech sector (aided by BT having its national research headquarters down the road), logistics connected to our ports and insurance.

Just two months ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Spirit Yachts on the island site, where I discussed the possibility of a new Maritime Skills Academy that will hopefully be part funded by the new Town Deal.

Ultimately, I want to ensure that it is local boys and girls from across our town who are able to grab these opportunities with both hands and to secure good and fulfilling careers. But also, that local adults have the ability to change careers and ‘upskill’.

To do all this, we need to broaden the education system. Suffolk New College and our university are already doing good work in this area but there is no doubt that it could be accelerated.

There has never been a more important time to get this right as we look to recover from Covid-19 and build up our skills base.

After the session I had on the Education Select Committee this week scrutinising the government’s White Paper, I am confident that these proposals have massive potential for an exciting new focus in education.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter