As sound bites go, it’s not one of his best, but David Cameron is right to suggest that apprenticeships should be the ‘new norm’ for young people who want to go to university. But we should use National Apprenticeship Week to recognise that we have a long way to go before the apprenticeship system as a whole is up to the task. As the Richard Review of Apprenticeships found, there is a lot of work to be done. The entrepreneur and former “dragon” was polite when he pointed out that apprenticeships should be targeted at people new to a role and in need of training and that recognised industry standards should form the basis of every apprenticeship. The implication is that the opposite is the case: that apprenticeships are often used to provide training for older people already in employment and that standards vary wildly.
More MPs should also be putting their money where their mouths are. I am closely involved with the Parliamentary Academy, a cross-party project launched by Conservative MP Robert Halfon in collaboration with my charity, New Deal of the Mind. Initially piloting with three MPs (Labour’s John Woodcock, Lib Dem Mike Crockart and Conservative Andrea Leadsom) along with CCHQ itself, the scheme continues to grow in collaboration with Westminster Kingsway College, which provides the training. Tories Mark Harper, Mark Prisk and Caroline Dinenage took on apprentices through the scheme last summer, as did Labour’s Sadiq Khan. The latest intake includes apprentices working in Ed Miliband’s office and Labour Party HQ, while Labour leader in the Lords, Baroness Royall, has taken two recruits for her office. Lib Dem Tom Brake and Conservative Mel Stride have also joined the scheme, as has the apprentice minister himself, Matthew Hancock.
There is now a growing understanding that employment practices in parliament have to change. This is why schemes such as the Parliamentary Academy are so important. The casual nature in which MPs employ the sons and daughters of friends, family and contacts as unpaid interns has closed the door to all but the most privileged. But the Parliamentary Academy is not just a one-way street. It should also be seen as a way of making MPs’ offices more professional places to work. The next round of apprentices will be recruited in the summer. Every MP should have one so write to your MP and get them to do the right thing.