The Independent Apprenticeship Policy Group's (IAPG) attendance at the Party Conferences this year presents a vital opportunity to influence skills policy at a crucial time. With the prospect that a general election will take place before the end of the year, the IAPG must aim to ensure that its key messages and priorities are considered within the Parties’ election manifestos.

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The Independent Apprenticeship Policy Group at Party Conference fringe events

Liberal Democrats Party Conference

The Independent Apprenticeship Policy Group at the Liberal Democrats Party Conference, with Sir Vince Cable on Saturday 14 September, Bournemouth. Read the summary of the discussion below.

The IAPG in conversation with Sir Vince Cable

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Read a summary of Sir Vince Cable's contribution to the discussion of a long-term vision for apprenticeships below.

On Saturday 14th September Neil Carmichael held a conversation at the Liberal Democrats Party Conference with Sir Vince Cable on the future of apprenticeships and the work of the Independent Apprenticeship Policy Group (IAPG). Vince Cable spoke to a small gathering about the importance of the skills agenda in the UK, and the place of apprenticeships within this.

He began by outlining two key reasons why the skills agenda is so crucial: the chronic skills shortages employers and UKPLC are facing, and the UK’s history of having a strong bias towards academic learning at the expense of skills development. Whilst in coalition government from 2010 to 2015, the Liberal Democrats made a decision to focus on skills and on apprenticeships in particular. This focus was supported by the Conservative Party and the mindset around the value of skills began, slowly, to change.

Asked about the priorities for apprenticeships Sir Vince’s response was clear: a shift in culture and mindset is key. Without such a shift we will not see the huge changes we need to see in behaviors and outcomes. In 2014 he asked UCAS to take a look at the possibility of introducing higher and degree level apprenticeships into its admissions services to aid this shift - the inclusion of apprenticeship places in the UCAS system enhances the image of apprenticeships as a viable alternative to the university route. The availability of higher and degree level apprenticeships in themselves add lustre to the apprenticeship offer as a whole. And the schools system needs to change so students are made more aware of the opportunities, and school performance measures need to move away from rigid measures to better reflect student success. 

After the Conservative win in the 2015 general election, the apprenticeship levy was announced in the July budget and brought into effect on 6 April 2017. Vince Cable reflected that whilst a good idea in theory, the levy is a blunt tool which taxes all companies whether they train or not, does not include SMEs (according to calculations by the Institute of Fiscal Studies 40% of employees work for an employer who do pay the levy), and many new apprenticeship standards have been slow to be approved. The ‘treacle’ of Whitehall bureaucracy has slowed the impact of apprenticeship policy. 

Furthermore, levy funds can only be used to develop certain skills. Whilst apprenticeships are a crucial element of the skills agenda, not every individual needing to develop new skills will need to go through the apprenticeship route. Conventional further education provides a number of skills-based routes yet is currently starved of funds The Liberal Democrats would set out to increase overall funding, and breathe new life into further education and skills funding as a whole. As a part of this, they plan to revolutionise lifelong learning by giving every adult in England an entitlement to £9,000 over their lifetime to pay for further education or training in the form of a Personal Education and Skills Account (PESA).

The IAPG and Pearson are hugely grateful to Sir Vince Cable for his contribution to this fringe session. The IAPG, sponsored by Pearson, has been brought together to create a public dialogue and an independent body of work and to contribute to a long-term vision for apprenticeships. Pearson is committed to enhancing the debate and developing the evidence that can help inform and shape the UK education landscape, and seeks to engage a wide range of stakeholders in the conversation to ensure the nation’s future skills needs can be met. 

Conservative Party Conference

Date: Tuesday 1 October, 16:00 – 17:30
Venue: PLMR Business Hub at the entrance to secure zone, Manchester Central Convention Complex (secure zone)

Join us for a panel debate exploring the work of the Independent Apprenticeship Policy Group, with Secretary of State Gavin Williamson (invited).

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