As young people struggle to deal with work post-Covid, the govt sits on £3bn of apprenticeship money that must be released for the future of UK manufacturing, says Unite
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The future of the UK’s world class base of highly skilled workers is now at great risk, Unite, other unions and employers warned yesterday (August 31).
The government’s oft lauded apprenticeship training scheme is currently at a standstill with £3bn in cash levied from companies to pay for apprenticeships sitting idle in Treasury coffers.
Unite and industry experts have demanded the government install emergency measures to save apprenticeships and skills essential for the UK’s recovery out of the pandemic crisis.
The call came following a huge drop in the number of apprenticeships for skilled-work roles during the coronavirus lockdown.
In May, the number of apprenticeship starts for 16 to 18-year-olds fell 79 per cent compared with last year. And according to a new report commissioned by business organisation Make UK, the TUC, the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU) and specialist training organisations, the numbers are likely to fall further still. The report warns this could have dire effects and lead to a “lost generation” of skilled workers.
The report found that around a third of manufacturers are cancelling or putting on hold their apprenticeship training schemes because of the pandemic.
Unite AGS and CSEU president, Tony Burke, reports, “Fearing a lost generation of young people, the TUC, the CSEU along with employers in manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, steel, chemicals, food and drink and defence, along with the UKs biggest training providers Enginuity and Cogent, have written to Gavin Williamson secretary of state for education calling for a national skills taskforce to stop apprenticeship opportunities disappearing, and to establish a national structure to redeploy and retrain skilled workers facing job losses, to keep them in employment and to maintain the UK’s skills base for the future.
“Against the current backdrop of mass lay-offs on a scale unseen since the 1980s, the manufacturing sector faces a loss of skilled jobs and apprentices that without help, will not see a return to the levels seen before Covid-19 for many years to come,” Burke continued.
“Setting up a National Skills taskforce must be done at speed and involve trade unions and other key stakeholders to ensure vitals skills and skilled workers are retained and redeployed within industry.
“The taskforce needs to work to identify opportunities where workers’ skills are in demand, (whether in manufacturing or other sectors) and develop a flagship upskilling programme to support employers in the development of new digital and ‘green’ skills needed for a future proofed economy.
“There needs to be nationally agreed programme for workers who already have the necessary basic skills to reskill them into new growth areas of work to take advantage of new jobs that will be required as companies look to work differently, bringing their supply chains closer to home and enter new markets,” Burke added.
Manufacturing industries in Britain employ almost three million workers and account for 50 per cent of the nation’s exports.
“Workers are going to face massive economic challenges in the months ahead, and it is often young workers and apprentices who experience the worst impact,” commented TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.
“It is critical that the government listens to this call to act urgently to support current apprentices to complete their programmes and to enable employers to continue to provide high-quality apprenticeship opportunities,” she added.
Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing, believes that, “One positive change of direction that could be quickly executed and widely welcomed, certainly by manufacturing employers, is the apprenticeship levy.
“It isn’t working, certainly not for young workers, so we urge government to move fast and fix it. Vast sums of cash are standing idle in the Treasury, with employers unable to access it to fund apprenticeships.”
The government’s approach so far had been very disappointing, says Turner, and will not leave the UK’s world class industries in any fit state to continue.
He said, “UK manufacturing desperately needs enthusiastic, visionary young people not just to replace those leaving in alarming numbers but to bring new ideas, develop vital new expertise. But employers are giving up on the apprenticeship scheme.
“In our experience, neither ministers nor civil servants, know how to access – let alone release – any of the close to £3bn of levy money sitting in the Treasury’s coffers.
“Billions of pounds are currently sitting there doing nothing. We urge the chancellor to put it to good use to upskill the current workforce while bringing tens of thousands of new apprenticeships forward to support our younger people who have had their lives put on hold by the cruelty of this crisis.”
For more comment on apprenticeships see Steve Turner’s call to the chancellor to ‘Build Back Better’ on Labour List.
Compiled by Amanda Campbell @amanda_unite