Sharon speaking at a business event on apprenticeships and social value 29.04.16
Image copyright Henk Geertsema ACIM, 2016
Sharon was invited to speak at a business event in Sedgefield titled 'Competing for Social Value in Procurement Contracts', along with Labour MEP, Jude Kirton-Darling, about stretching social value by businesses and companies when recruiting apprentices. Sharon spoke about the need to address the issue of young people being left in a constant cycle of check-list training courses or short-term apprenticeships with no prospects of a job at the end of it, and the despondency both can have on the life chances of young people and the need for businesses and training providers to recognise the social value they can have in creating a diverse and skilled workforce.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Firstly, I want to thank Stephanie and Rachel for inviting me to come and speak to you today.
Social value has become a much more important part of public procurement in recent years, with businesses and organisations who bid for public contracts now needing to consider how they can improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of their local area.
This is something I have worked on in recent months with Rachel Lumsden, Stephanie Smith and other experts and organisations within my local authority area in Sunderland, especially when it comes to the social impact of apprenticeships for young people.
In latest guidance by the Government to authorities and businesses on procurement of contracts, it stated that contracts worth £10 million or more, and last for 12 months or longer, should support the upskilling of their workforce and the wider community, along with working towards the Government’s ambitious, but noble, target of creating three million apprenticeships by 2020.
Organisations here in the room today may never be competing for contracts worth £10 million or more, but this doesn’t mean that the principles of ensuring that we work towards upskilling our workforce - a value held across the board within the business community – is not still worth pursuing and I know that many here today, will agree and already champion this belief.
However, there is always more that can be done and this is what I wish to talk to you all about today.
Apprenticeships unlock success
It is undeniable the impact that a high-quality apprenticeship can have on the lives of young people in providing them with skills for life, along with the chance to earn whilst they learn and move on in life with a sustainable career path – something we all wish for our children.
As a region, we pride ourselves on our strong manufacturing and industrial heritage and the entwined appreciation for just how important an apprenticeship can be to getting on in life.
It is important that when a business provides an apprenticeship to a young person, that we don’t, after six months, see them tossed out on to the street with no job to go into and that they have just been making up the numbers to ensure targets set out by the Government are met.
This is something I know all too well from personal experience, when during the 1980s, I saw my two brothers go through a turnstile of training programmes, they were called YOPs and YTSs back then, but when it came to the end of the six-month period, they were told: ‘There’s no job here for you’ and they would end up on yet another scheme, and see this repeated time and time again.
My youngest brother did four YTS’s and went from an eager 16-year-old dreaming of being a mechanic to an angry disillusioned 18-year-old on the dole with no prospects. It took a number of years to recover from that and he eventually got his chance when thankfully his best friend’s dad, who laid marble floor tiles as a sub-contractor in airports and shopping malls, gave him a job labouring for him.
This was just the break my brother, probably aged 20 or 21 by then, needed. He went from strength to strength, learnt the trade, became a floorer himself and is now a director of the company. Now, that’s the difference giving a young person a chance makes to their life. If only those 4 companies which let him go after 6 months had given him a chance! Their loss!
This is why I am passionate about the recognition of the social value and impact that businesses can have on the lives of young people.
If we take the message that came out of National Apprenticeship Week last month, of: the positive impact apprenticeships can have on our economy, but also on a more personal level with the social mobility that can come with undertaking an apprenticeship, it is understandable just how far we have come since the 1980s.
We can’t just celebrate apprenticeships for one week alone though, we need to do this day in, day out, by actively working towards improving the quality and access to apprenticeships on offer to our young people.
That is why there is still more to do, and this is a message that I hope will come out of today.
For many young people in our region there is no hope of them securing an apprenticeship, with the Government’s requirements that young people must have a Grade C in English and Maths.
Whilst it is important that we continue to aspire to pushing the outcomes of young people achieving an A* to C in the core subjects, we have to realise that this is not always possible for all young people, especially some with SEND.
There are many skilled apprenticeships which understandably need to have the grades in order to complete the work needed of them to a high-standard, such as using high level thinking, maths skills such as algebra etc, or complex concepts.
But should a young person aspiring to do an apprenticeship working in an office, with the functional mathematical and literacy skills to do the job, be excluded from this life changing apprenticeship that is open to their peers.
Or excluding a young person who is good with their hands from an apprenticeship as a construction worker or a welder, because they didn’t get their C in Maths and English, although may have plenty other GCSE A – C, I think this is wrong when they can learn all the functional skills needed to do this job whilst working on site.
For many young people applying what they are trying to learn in the classroom to the actual life scenarios they are now in can make the penny drop to help them develop skills they never thought they would have, with some then reaching the magic C in English and Maths during their apprenticeship. Others will bring their Maths and English up to the functional level. They just need the chance, their break.
Recent figures I obtained through a Parliamentary Question to the Department for Education found that 42% of young people in the North East by the age of 16 were not achieving at least a Grade C in English and Maths.
Many of those young people may get the required grades the following year, or the year after that, yet what is deeply concerning is that because of this block imposed on the entry requirements for an apprenticeship we are seeing some young people being placed onto remedial course after remedial course, so that training providers can tick a box to say they are supporting young people to achieve their needed qualifications – and in some cases, no real progress is ever made. With the young person becoming increasingly disillusioned and losing all hope of ever getting the chance to get on, get a break, to start their life as an adult.
This harks back to what I mentioned earlier with my brother’s experiences in the 1980s, and the danger of creating a despondent and disengaged generation of young people who are being locked out of achieving their true potential because they have not been given the opportunities to do so. Not able to even get over the first hurdle.
What can businesses do
That is why it is up to businesses, such as yourselves here today, to tap into this idea of social value and ensure that young people are given the opportunities they need in life to change their lives for the better.
To do this, there needs to be scrutiny and creativity driving forward how we look at the way we recruit apprentices and always keeping in mind the idea of: ‘what am I giving back to my local community?’
One way of doing this is by looking at the processes undertaken by training companies and holding them to account on how they are recruiting and training the apprenticeship workforce in our region, and who better to do this than those who use their services – that is all of you.
Secondly, speak to them and find out more about their recruitment procedures and have the important discussions about how making social value a central ethos to your apprenticeship recruitment is important to you and your organisation and challenging them to do more.
These are two important ways of taking this issue further.
There is so much more we can do to ensure we unlock the doors of opportunity to the widest possible cross-section of society, and allow those young people in our local area to have the best chances in life through the social mobility an apprenticeship can have on their life.
Thank you for listening.
For more information on your local MEP Jude Kirton-Darling, follow this link: