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The government is right. For once.

By Hamish Champ
Posted 20 November 2012

Broadening the scope of apprenticeship programmes, upping the skills level of the nation’s workforce and a burning desire to get school children engaged with manufacturing and industry are very much hot topics at the moment.

Yesterday Vince Cable, the business secretary, told the CBI of his ambition to rejuvenate the image of engineering and industry in the eyes of tomorrow’s potential workforce, eg school children and students.

Today we have the skills minister, Matthew Hancock, announcing the second part of a scheme to offer funds to businesses to help them create the sort of training programmes they will need to compete in the marketplace.

This is all good stuff, but I can’t remember a time when the word ‘apprentice’ was bandied about with such abandon. It was certainly a long time ago, though not necessarily in a galaxy far, far away.

When I was at school many moons ago I didn’t know what I wanted to do the next week, never mind when I’d finished my time at Thomas Tallis Secondary School in Kidbrooke, South East London.

So I was somewhat envious of some of my classmates who knew exactly what they would be doing the day after they had left the school premises for the last time, aged 16; they were to become apprentices.

If you didn’t go to university or to work in an office you became an apprentice. It’s certainly what a lot of my mates did. Some went off to work with carpenters, others teamed up to follow a plumber or an electrician. The really ambitious ones managed to get into a place called ‘Dagenham’, which was over the river, where they made motor cars.

I once visited the Ford factory at Dagenham, as part of a school trip. It was doubtless designed to give us an insight into what working in a manufacturing centre was like and a few of my chums came away enthused at the prospect of rolling up their sleeves and bolting cars together.

I’m afraid I came away imagining it must be like what that Dante bloke had been thinking of when he came up with his ‘Inferno’.

But times – and working practices and conditions – have changed and not so many of today’s manufacturing plants resemble those dark, noisy operations of the mid-1970s. Instead many are bright, clean and worker-friendly, producing the products people at home and abroad want to buy. Made in Britain.

This is the message of today’s business and political leaders, who are desperate to keep skills in the UK in order that the country is well-placed – or just in the game – for the future.

Getting schools on board is the beginning of this process and for once the government appears to be on the right track.

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