Young people in Britain need something more than a free bus pass – they have been betrayed by inadequate apprenticeship schemes

These courses are so useless that Ofsted described them as inadequate last August

Janet Street-Porter
Friday 13 April 2018 17:59
Comments
Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan slam Conservative cuts as they launch Labour local elections campaign

Labour has promised free bus passes to people under 25, and why not?

Naturally, the Tories are bleating that this perk is a shameless bid to win the youth vote in advance of the local council elections next month. Jeremy Corbyn claims the £1.4bn cost would be funded from the budget to fix our roads, currently in the worst condition for many years. Labour’s promise also comes ring-fenced with conditions: the passes would only apply to local travel, and on services run by local councils. Not much help to the young who might want to attend college elsewhere or travel in Europe.

Labour’s promises to abolish tuition fees and to write off student debt have proved vote-winners, even if they have not been realistically costed. Theresa May has been reluctantly forced into announcing a year-long review into university and adult education, a sign that the Tories may have to make concessions if they are not to be seen as the “nasty party”.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that Britain’s 16- to 24-year-olds say they are lonelier than any other generation, lack trust in others and feel isolated. Many Tory voters see their children saddled with huge debts, unable to find anywhere to live, and unable to get a job paying over the minimum wage. All of which is why, in order to treat young people with respect, free bus passes might be a start, but don’t tackle the biggest issue this generation faces: getting the qualifications to secure a decent job.

Back in 2013, the Tories attempted to kickstart training for apprentices, recognising that promoting university education was failing a huge number of kids who were not academic. They invested in Learndirect, the UK’s biggest provider of training – and it has been a shocking disaster. Over 17,000 young people took courses in 2016-17 but the pass rate plummeted to under 50 per cent, way below the accepted target of 62 per cent.

These courses are so useless that Ofsted described them as inadequate last August. If Learndirect was a private company, it would have been closed down or gone into receivership, and yet this Government-backed scheme has received over £631m of public money. For four years, it has been allowed to wither and fail, to be replaced by the apprenticeship levy, taxing firms whose salary bill is over £3m a year. That money is held by HMRC, and then employers claim up to 90 per cent of their levy back to fund skilled apprenticeship training schemes.

According to the Open University, £1.39bn has been raised, but only £108m invested back into training. The number of young people signing up for apprenticeships dropped by 59 per cent in the last quarter of 2017. Worse, a large number of the schemes being offered are blatantly misusing the system, according to a report by the Reform centre-right think tank this week.

Theresa May says she wants to see 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, a target which cannot be met, and so we’ll end up letting down young people once again. The construction industry is desperate for over 30,000 skilled workers, so what’s going wrong?

The Government’s apprenticeship levy scheme allows employers to pay workers below the minimum wage while they are learning new skills – but Reform found that companies like KFC and Starbucks were interpreting “skills” extremely loosely. Frying chips and making coffee hardly require sophisticated training, and cleverly rewriting job descriptions so they sound important is another trick. Some trainees only met with an instructor once every four to six weeks – hardly an apprenticeship.

Two of my friends had teenage sons who were not academic. I encouraged both to become apprentices – one has trained as a plumber, the other as an electrician. It’s what my father did. Both earned under the minimum wage for many months, and there were times when I had to really encourage them not to chuck it in. They can now look forward to lucrative, rewarding careers. They are stars in my eyes: what they have done is far more impressive than gaining a useless degree at a third division university in geography or media studies.

The unused millions sitting in the apprenticeship levy pot must be used to enforce real training in the schemes run by employers. It should also be used to fund better courses at Further Education colleges and sell them to school students. We must not accept that unskilled work in the service industries constitutes apprenticeships – that is failing young people who deserve a better start in life.

The sooner 16-year-olds get the vote, the better, because then they will be able to have more influence on their destiny. As it stands, parties on both sides just offer carrots and sweeteners, without having the guts to come up with in-depth support for the people who will be running the UK when we’re dead.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in