Why I have championed apprenticeships my whole political life - Robert Halfon

My whole political life has been about championing apprenticeships and skills. I’ve done this because I’ve seen the good they can do in my own constituency. They are the greatest tool we have for advancing social justice.

A range of complementary training options, from Level 2 to degree level, will allow people of all backgrounds to climb the ladder of opportunity - gaining the skills they need to improve their income and their future.

The government’s reforms and investment have seen a transformation of the skills landscape.

This has already brought about incredible dividends.

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Robert Halfon is Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education. PIC: PARobert Halfon is Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education. PIC: PA
Robert Halfon is Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education. PIC: PA

There are now nearly 690 apprenticeship standards - each one designed by employers with IfATE (Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education) to teach the skills that employees really need. While a lot has been achieved, there is still much to do.

My three goals are Building an Apprenticeships Nation, prioritising quality over quantity, and making sure apprenticeships serve social justice, by bringing opportunities to those who need them most.

Building an Apprenticeships Nation means integrating apprenticeships into the way that everyone sees work, study and recruitment. They are not a minority pursuit for people who didn’t choose university, or just a pathway dedicated to ancient, guilded trades. They are about spreading opportunities to enter every trade possible, in a way that allows the employer to specify your training. Currently nearly 70 per cent of occupations can now be entered via an apprenticeship – and we intend to build on this.

My next goal for apprenticeships is quality over quantity. There is no point racking-up huge numbers of participants if the training people receive is not second to none.

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To raise the prestige of vocational, technical education, we must ensure that these employer-led qualifications are to the highest standard.

If you compare pre-2010 apprenticeships with 2024 apprenticeships, you’re not comparing apples and pears. There were fewer than half a million people participating in apprenticeships in 2009/10. Those training programmes had no requirement to last at least a year and no minimum guided learning hours.

Last year over 750,000 were participating – and training to the more rigorous, industry-designed standards we introduced from 2014.

I know participation has fluctuated over the last decade, as high quality standards and the Levy were introduced.

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But quality matters more than quantity because it serves everyone in the long term – businesses, the economy and learners’ outcomes.

My final goal for apprenticeships is that they serve social justice.

This is a core part of my personal mission in politics, and why I have such enthusiasm for this training.

It is not fair that opportunities to enter good work, with progression and a rising pay scale are often not given to those who need them most.

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Apprenticeships provide a Ladder of Opportunity for people to climb to a better life - that’s why I champion them.

An abridged version of Minister Robert Halfon's virtual speech to the Annual Apprenticeship Conference 2024 in Birmingham.

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