7 Feb 2011, British Telecom Headquarters, London
[Check against delivery]
Good morning everyone. Thank you very much for coming.
Vince Cable announced earlier the excellent news that Jaguar Landrover, one of this country’s flagship manufacturing companies, are creating 1,500 new Apprenticeship places.
In my turn, I’m delighted to be able to add that at least nine other major companies will also be making commitments this week to recruit more apprentices this year.
They include our hosts today, BT, which will be offering 250 places across the Group, and the Morrison’s supermarket chain, which will have no fewer than 7,000 places available in skills like butchery and bakery. I look very much forward to meeting some of these apprentices when I visit Morrison’s on Thursday.
In case anyone has still to be convinced that Apprenticeships can add value to white- as well as blue-collar occupations, I am pleased to report that Proctor and Gamble intend to recruit ten apprentice accountants.
And if anyone has bought a copy of today’s Times – I just happen to have one here – they may have seen this feature congratulating the first 180 people to gain skills at higher education level by taking Higher Apprenticeships.
At the risk of becoming repetitive, I must once again heartily applaud the fact that some of these are BT employees.
I have no doubt that these 180 higher-level apprentices will be the first of many. And I add my own warm congratulations to those already set down for posterity in our national newspaper of record.
Of course, the news that some of our major employers are playing their part in extending the availability of Apprenticeships is always welcome. And we celebrate every business that joins, or reinforces its commitment to the cause.
But Apprenticeships Week and the Apprentices programme in general are about far more than giving us the opportunity to cite ever-larger numbers.
But ever mindful of Hilaire Belloc’s aphorism, that “Statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death”.
I know that this is about skills changing lives by changing life chances – apprenticeships give life to social mobility and breed social justice.
The chief aim of the Apprenticeships programme is not the creation of ever-bigger numbers to quote, but of an ever-bigger society in which everyone can benefit. Apprenticeships are the Big Society.
More than perhaps any other form of learning – including, I must say, many degree courses – Apprenticeships say to people, "Aspire, whoever you are and whatever your background. All that’s required is the strength of will to take the first step." The power of will is the path to success.
The Apprenticeship path once turned thousands of medieval peasants into the men whose skills, combined with passion, vision and creativity, beautified this island and which still give the surviving examples of their handiwork, like the great cathedrals, the power to take our breath away.
For these people, an Apprenticeship led to a chance to touch, feel, and taste the sublime.
And so it still can for the people of today who want to point their lives in a more rewarding direction.
I am determined that those who want to set their feet on the Apprenticeships path should receive every assistance to do so from the Government.
As some of you know, we are already working hard to develop better routes into the programme, including better access schemes to enable people with very low or no qualifications to gain the skills they need to take up a place.
So I am pleased to be able to announce today that my colleague, the Employment Minister Chris Grayling, and I will be asking Jobcentre Plus and the National Apprenticeships Service to explore together how people for whom this would be a suitable option might be guided out of the dole queue and into an Apprenticeship.
There is also a pressing need to ensure that no Apprenticeship is an employment cul-de-sac. From the earliest times, learners could progress from apprentice to journeyman and ultimately to master craftsman. Nowadays, too, an Apprenticeship must be not the end but the start of a life of learning.
That’s why I am determined to develop a more navigable progression route into and through the Apprenticeships programme which clearly leads to higher learning at University or elsewhere.
And today we are making a start. I can report our progress renaming of the levels of Apprenticeships, to make it clearer that apprentices can progress through the Apprenticeships programme.
Level 2 Apprenticeships will now be know as Intermediate Level Apprenticeships. Level 3 will become Advanced Level Apprenticeships and Higher Apprenticeships will remain unchanged.
This reform will also help to give greater recognition and status to those who successfully complete their Apprenticeships. But, as I said in a speech at the Royal Society of Arts last October, we will take whatever steps are needed to drive up quality. And what a splendid example of driving up quality World Skills is.
So I can also announce that my Department will be working with the National Apprenticeship Service to introduce graduation ceremonies for apprentices and their families, together with an apprentice honour roll. And, to allow those who have learned together to stay in touch and continue to learn, I want us also to facilitate the creation of the sort of alumni networks for apprentices that have worked so well in other areas.
Our ultimate goal remains to see apprentices to go beyond parity of esteem with university graduates. That an Apprenticeship place is as valued as one at a university. For it is through the relationship between craft and beauty that truth will be reached.
I hope that you are all as excited as I am by the developments I have announced this morning. We should all be excited, too, by the prospect of the week that lies before us and the literally hundreds of events that will be taking place all over the country.
So let me thank again BT, both for their hospitality this morning and their championing of Apprenticeships in general. And secondly to the staff of the National Apprenticeship Service, who have, I know, worked unbelievably hard to ensure that Apprenticeships Week 2011 will be one that we will remember for years to come.
Let me be cleared; in the CSR we made £250m available to boost adult apprenticeships by 75,000, DfE have committed sufficient to boost apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds by at least 30,000. We aim to build more apprenticeships in Britain than ever seen before.
I champion practical skills now in Government as I did in opposition. Apprenticeships are now at the heart of Government policy and they are in my heart too: growing skills; growing lives; growing Britain.