As expected, there are lots of pledges in the manifestos of the main parties vying for votes in the forthcoming general election that could change UK engineering in years to come. From energy to housebuilding, from green deals to railways, it’s all in there. And so is training, with apprenticeships becoming part of the ongoing election battle between Labour and the current Conservative government.

The training issue may not be top of the agenda, or indeed of those who can vote, but nonetheless it’s important and is significant because it addresses skills gaps, future education pathways and the strengthening of our workforce and productivity capabilities. So, what are these two main political parties saying?

They say, we say

Labour is suggesting a ‘growth and skills levy’ which would allow employers to spend up to half of they money they receive from the government to train existing staff in “high-level technical skills” including engineering and building retrofit. Labour also pledges to reserve at least 50 per cent of the money from the training levy for apprenticeships and to create 150,000 traineeships for young people.

So far so good? The Conservatives meanwhile have promised to deliver 100,000 ‘high skilled’ apprenticeships each year for the next five years as an alternative to university degrees which they have described as neither providing value for money nor good employment prospects. The government’s proposal also has a 30 per cent uplift on current levels of apprenticeships starters. The Liberal Democrats meanwhile said the current government had treated apprentices like “second class workers.”

The latest statistics suggest that apprenticeships might be, for some at least, the better route to a good job after study. The Office for Students says almost three in 10 graduates fail to land skilled employment or further education places within 15 months of graduation. The Institute of Fiscal Studies calculates that one in five students would have been better off if they hadn’t gone to university in terms of their lifetime earnings.

Renewed focus

Here at TTE of course, we are aware that one cap doesn’t fit all – some people might be more suited to studying at university, others might benefit more from an apprenticeship. The UK needs both to flourish if the country’s economic prospects are to grow. Yet we are firmly on the side of advocating for ‘earning as you’re learning’ – in other words, apprenticeships. Hearing from both the current Conservative government and their potential successors at Labour that apprenticeships are vitally important for the health and the wealth of the country has to be welcomed.

We are not the only ones. From across the spectrum there has been a generally positive reaction. For example, the Building Engineering Services Association’s director of competence and compliance spoke of their pleasure that there was a renewed focus on technical apprenticeships. The CEO of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers also welcomed the pledge of additional funding adding that whichever party forms the government after July 4th has to commit to encouraging more employers to offer more apprenticeship opportunities.

Revolve and evolve

Quality engineering apprenticeships are key of course – engineers make the world revolve and evolve and every country wants to unearth and nurture this particular talent. It’s alarming then that according to Professional Engineering, the word ‘Engineering’ is mentioned only once in more than 500 pages of the Labour, Conservative, Reform, Liberal Democrat, Green, SNP and Plaid Cymru manifesto documents.

It prompted the head of policy at the Institute of Mechanical Engineering, Matt Rooney, to say that the lack of reference to engineering in the manifestos is disappointing. And he added:

“We particularly need to promote engineering to young people so that they know what an exciting profession it is, especially if they want to work on big challenges like climate change. We also need to work hard to make sure that there is a greater culture and understanding of engineering in our schools.”

TTE delivers on promises

We welcome that sentiment too, one that we have made on countless occasions. Encouraging people to consider training in engineering is not only the country’s life blood, it’s TTE’s as well. It’s all electioneering of course and we will see how the winners of this contest follow through. At TTE though we consistently deliver on our promise to provide first class engineering training that creates first class workers.

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