Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY GLINDON

APPRENTICESHIPS were once a recognised route to high quality, well paid and skilled jobs but went by the wayside with the decline of traditional industries in steel, coal and shipbuilding.

But they should now be seen as a vital means of bridging the skills gap that holds back economic growth and opportunity for those who could benefit from them.

I am pleased that the major parties all seem to agree in principle on the value of apprenticeships but practice is important too.

I hope that next week's tenth national apprenticeship week will bring together employers and apprentices from across England to celebrate the success of apprenticeships over the last decade, encourage even more people to choose apprenticeships as a fast-track to a great career, and highlight specific reforms to make a reality out of the rhetoric.

In recent years, we have encouraged young people to go to university which is absolutely the right thing for many. But it isn't for everyone and vocational education including apprenticeships should not be seen as somehow second best.

I join others in stressing the need to ensure our apprentices get a fair deal. The National Union of Students has recently released research that shows that disadvantaged apprentices are missing out on thousands of pounds in support available to college and university students.

As well as not being eligible for Care to Learn childcare grants, some apprentices also miss out on travel discounts, council tax exemptions and student bank account packages. Some apprentices currently earn as little as PS3.40 an hour but are excluded from several means of support available to counterparts in further education institutions. A college student with one child could be eligible for more than PS10,000 a year in financial support, and their families could receive thousands more. But apprentices - including those on the minimum wage, earning as little as PS7,000 a year - are not entitled to any of this.

Given that apprenticeships are seen as essential to establishing a high-skilled economy, the government should align its rhetoric and reality by giving equal support to apprentices. …

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