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Solving The Apprenticeship Crisis

From Global Bridge's Founder, Ben Mason - Global Bridge could resolve the crisis engulfing the government’s apprenticeship scheme at a stroke. Today, I’ll finally have a chance to discuss our view of the challenges facing the apprenticeship system - and potential solutions - with MPs and Peers at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships

Barely a day passes when the government’s apprenticeship scheme, and specifically the failings of the Apprenticeship Levy, are not the subject of public criticism. From the Local Government Association to the Confederation of British Industry, concerns over the inadequacies of a system that saw employers spend just £170m of the £2.2bn collected by the Treasury in the financial year 2017/18 are mounting, despite a recent rise in levy usage.

My frustration, as the founder of Global Bridge, a digital platform that connects talent with opportunity, is how easily the issue could be solved if the government would put up its hand, admit that things hadn’t gone as intended, and allow those with experience and expertise to help. I’ve been asked to talk about Global Bridge’s experiences with apprenticeships in the public sector, and specifically within the health sector, but there may also be an opportunity to address broader challenges.

I believe that Global Bridge is the solution to all of the government’s issues with apprenticeships. It’s the solution to creating a UCAS-style pathway for apprenticeships. It’s the solution to giving apprenticeships the same visibility as university pathways. It’s the solution for reassuring young people that an apprenticeship doesn’t mean you’re inferior to those on a university pathway. It has the ability to level the playing field for opportunity.

Naturally, I’m inclined to these opinions, but please do not confuse genuine concern with commercial experience. My frustration stems from 16 years as a teacher in state and independent schools and from first-hand knowledge of the additional, unnecessary burden placed upon students and educators, as well as on businesses, by the government’s failure to properly administrate a system that should be a guaranteed pathway to success.

In January, Catherine McKinnell, our local MP as a business based in the centre of Newcastle, wrote to Anne Milton, the Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships, encouraging her to speak to us. We understand that Ms Milton replied to the effect that while she was aware of Global Bridge, the government’s own service already met the task. Shortly after, she faced heavy criticism in Parliament, because the apprenticeship scheme is in tatters and not doing the job it’s supposed to.

Essentially, every business that we meet tells us that the apprenticeship process is in great need of improvement. There are some huge businesses in the North East, where Global Bridge is based, who struggle to engage with education and their future workforce. In a similar way, young people are not fully aware of the apprenticeship opportunities available to them, or how to access the system.

We know from the National Audit Office that less than 10 per cent of the apprenticeship levy was spent in 2017/18, leaving a huge surplus, even with the rise in uptake in the second year of the scheme. So if the government said, ‘Right, we’re going to invest some of those funds with Global Bridge to create the first UCAS-style pathway for apprenticeships and give equal visibility with university degree courses’, to me that’s a no-brainer. I’m concerned that Ms Milton has invested massive sums in a failed solution and will face her decisions being called into question if she now makes a U-turn.

The most disappointing aspect is that so many things have been put in place that are almost stopping us from getting through the doorway, and yet Global Bridge is about solving the eternal problem of getting talent to opportunity. It’s been the same since the beginning of time, and in a hundred years time, it will still be an issue: businesses will still want to connect with talent. The government might change, the Minister for Education and Skills might change, and so the policy might change, but Global Bridge is tackling an issue that will never change: how do I, as a student, get to where I need to be, and how do I, as an educator, help them get there?

Speaking to MPs and Peers at the Houses of Parliament feels like a massive opportunity. The message I hope to get across is that Global Bridge has genuinely been built by educationalists who are at the coalface, and have built the platform as a direct response to the issues that they have faced. They have lived through the struggles that other teachers continue to battle. Global Bridge has not been built by high-flying executives who think they know what education needs. We’ve built what education needs because it would have made our jobs a heck of a lot easier.

There is no question that the apprenticeship scheme, and a levy for business to finance the training component, is a fundamentally sound concept. What is lacking is effective administration of a type that the university admissions process has enjoyed for years. A UCAS-style system for apprenticeships is surely not too much to ask for, and Global Bridge is ideally placed to deliver just that. A platform that allows employers to notify young people of apprenticeship opportunities, and for young people to search and apply based on their skills and predicted grades, is exactly what we offer.

There is further synergy between Global Bridge and the apprenticeship scheme in its broadest sense, in the emphasis placed by both on skills rather than academic achievement. While exam success can be an accurate barometer of ability, it should never be regarded as the final word on a young person’s potential. We hear time and again that businesses are crying out for skills rather than results. Global Bridge’s ability to host rich content – film, imagery and audio – allows students for the first time to evidence their skills for employers, preventing their talent from being distilled into a list of grades.

I’m extremely grateful to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships for the opportunity to address them on a topic that I feel so passionately about. A UCAS-style pathway is what the apprenticeship scheme badly requires. Its implementation would alleviate the issues surrounding the apprenticeship levy. Global Bridge is ideally placed to deliver this much-needed solution.

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