I was immensely proud to co-host an event at the House of Commons with Robert Halfon,
the Conservative MP for Harlow, to promote apprenticeships in parliament. The workaholic Mr Halfon came up with the idea of launching a Parliamentary
Academy last year after taking on an apprentice in his own office. To me it seems the ideal way to get MPs to put their money where their collective mouth is, which is why my charity New Deal
of the Mind has started a pilot scheme with four apprentices in and around Westminster in partnership with the National Skills Academy for the creative and cultural sector and North
Hertfordshire College. To show that it is possible even for small organisations, we have also taken on an apprentice in our own office.
Despite all the rhetoric across the political spectrum about social mobility, increasing access to the professions and opening up parliament, Westminister remains a closed shop to all but the most
privileged. The intricate mysteries of getting a job in an MP’s office are closely guarded for good reason: increasingly it is used as a shortcut to the top of the political ladder.
The early feedback from the pilot has been very positive and I pay tribute to the MPs who have pioneered the scheme: Conservative Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire), Lib Dem Mike Crockart
(Edinburgh West) and Labour’s John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness). We have also placed an apprentice with Conservative Campaign Headquarters. The MPs have become great advocates for the
scheme, as Andrea Leadsom proved in her blog for Conservative Home this week.
The emphasis placed on the importance of apprenticeships by the government and the opposition is absolutely right. But I do wonder how many politicians genuinely understand what a modern
apprenticeship means. What duties and burdens does an apprenticeship put on the employer? How robust is the training? How transparent are the funding arrangements? The best way for an MP to find
out is to employ one.
As part of his mission to boost apprenticeships across the country, Robert Halfon has now published a fully-costed
proposal to boost apprenticeships by 120,000 through public procurement. Under the proposal, it would be voluntary for private sector businesses bidding for government contracts to take on
apprentices, but the belief is that companies would soon twig that it was to their advantage to do so. On the quiet this is already happening in the Department of Work and Pensions where
contractors have been persuaded to take on 2,000 apprentices.
This seems like an obvious way forward and I don’t think there will be much resistance to his idea from the opposition benches.