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Labour accuses Tories of failing young people and businesses over skills

Young people and employers “have been let down by a decade of Conservative failure on skills and training”, Labour claimed yesterday (Sunday 25 April).

Ahead of a planned visit to a college in the West Midlands by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, shadow education secretary Kate Green argued that apprenticeships had been “neglected by successive Conservative governments”.

According to the party’s own analysis, Labour claimed apprenticeships had “declined by a third since 2015, with a particular drop among young learners”. It added that for under-25s, apprenticeship starts had “declined 40 per cent in five years”, with apprenticeship starts “falling by 52 per cent” among young learners from the poorest backgrounds.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s “Kickstart” scheme had found employment for “only one in every 29″ young people who had lost work during the pandemic, Labour added. Speaking to E&T, the employment minister Mims Davies said that the government is focused on helping people reskill for jobs in green industries amid the coronavirus pandemic recovery.

Sir Keir said: “Young people who need opportunities to gain new skills and employers who need a growing pool of talent to rebuild after this pandemic have been let down by a decade of Conservative failure on skills and training. Labour’s “Jobs Promise” would give young people the opportunity to learn and earn, gaining the skills they need to progress into secure employment.”

The party said it would provide “quality training, education or employment opportunities for young people who have been out of work, education or training for six months”, adding it would also “create 400,000 secure jobs in low-carbon industries across the country such as steel and the automotive industry”.

Labour called on the Government to use the apprenticeships levy “underspend” to create an apprentice wage subsidy, arguing this could have created 85,000 new apprenticeship opportunities for young people aged 16 to 24 in 2020.

Apprenticeships in sectors including health and care, engineering and retail had seen starts “decline by over 128,000 since 2015”, the party added.

Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, said: “Apprenticeships should be a gold standard training opportunity, but they have been neglected by successive Conservative governments which have entrenched inequalities and denied young people the opportunities they need.”

In response, a government spokesperson said: “Making sure people can gain the skills they need to get good jobs is at the heart of our ambitious programme of further and technical education reform. We published our “Plan for Jobs” and the pioneering “Skills for Jobs” white paper at the start of this year and through our Kickstart scheme we have created over 180,000 jobs since it launched, with the total number of young people starting their placements having doubled in the last four weeks.

“As part of the new 'Lifetime Skills Guarantee', our 'Free Courses for Jobs' also offer adults the opportunity to learn and develop the skills they need at any age.”

The government has launched a number of schemes designed to upskill the young workforce and encourage take-up in key industries. For example, in November 2020, a new apprenticeship was announced designed to train space engineering technicians and equip them with the technical skills needed for a career in the space industry.

In February this year, youth employment non-profit organisation Generation UK - backed by the Department for Education and local authorities - unveiled the details of its own five-week bootcamp designed to equip 18 to 29 year-olds with the requisite skills to meet growing industry vacancies due to the global pandemic.

However, the broader perception is that a skills shortage persists for engineering and technology jobs. Make UK reported last autumn how small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are struggling with the transition to digital technologies due to a lack of skills and technical knowledge amongst their workforce, while the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) has warned that the UK’s rail sector faces “serious systemic issues” with regards to skills shortages that could escalate significantly over the next five years.

Solutions proposed to fix the engineering skills shortfall range from streamlining STEM requirements in order to relax the job requirement barrier for more junior vacancies to attracting more women overall to the profession.

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