Robert Halfon MP calls for Skills, Skills, Skills at Edge Event

As we all embrace the digital revolution of the last few months, Edge held its largest ever event – online of course! We welcomed more than 300 colleagues as we hosted Robert Halfon MP to talk about his vision for delivery of the government’s apprenticeship guarantee.

His passion was palpable as ever on this topic as he spoke about his Edge being granted – we are just recharging our magic wand as we’d love to see the rest of those wishes come true too!

Acknowledging all of the challenges – the deep recession, the existing reduction in the number of apprenticeships for young people – Robert remained resolute that apprenticeships hold the key to helping young people earn while they learn. He believes that this is an opportunity to create a real culture of apprenticeships here similar to continental countries like Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

He presented a range of clear practical proposals to drive up apprenticeship numbers, recognising that these must be real jobs, not a return to the programme led apprenticeships of the past.

He advocated refocusing the apprenticeship levy primarily on 16-24 year olds, an approach that Edge set out in Our Plan for Apprenticeships. He also called for wage subsidies for smaller businesses, which were hinted at by the ESFA later in the day. He looked to the public sector to take a greater share of apprentices through increased targets and to universities to step up with more degree apprenticeships too, referencing the amazing Edge Hotel School as a great example of high quality technical education in HE. 

Journalist and television presenter Steph McGovern, a passionate advocate of vocational education and apprenticeships, then led discussion with Robert and a panel of experts to get into the detail of the proposals.

Alice Barnard, Edge’s CEO, spoke passionately about the importance of not losing focus on existing apprentices, with latest Sutton Trust research suggesting over a third have been furloughed. Olly Newton, Edge’s Executive Director, drew on our recent research report on the impact of Covid-19 to share lessons from international models like Austria and Australia, where apprenticeship training agencies are used to cut red tape for small businesses.

The debate turned to the importance of preparing young people for apprenticeships, top of people’s minds as the Department considers cutting back ‘non-core subjects’ following lockdown. Andrew Churchill, Executive Chairman of JJ Churchill, a family-owned SME that has been employing apprentices since its foundation, spoke passionately about the importance of a broad curriculum and plenty of opportunities for students to engage with employers like his to open up options like apprenticeships.

Sally Dicketts, Chief Executive of Activate Learning and President Elect of AoC, set out some of the amazing work that schools and colleges in her group, including Reading UTC, which featured in research by Edge and NFER, do to prepare young people with a broad curriculum, rich employer engagement and access to a full range of future options.

Steph herself reflected on this issue as she set out her own at the end of the event, pushing for broader preparation for young people – currently we just measure rote learning and exam results, when what we actually want is rounded adults with the skills and experience they need to thrive in life and work. My wish would be for us to start measuring what we actually want – skills, behaviours and the destinations that young people go on to achieve.

You can read Robert Halfon MP’s speech in full here.

You can join Edge’s mailing list to find out about future events here.

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