Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says that the government and quangos needs to stop tinkering with a "patchwork system" of apprenticeships and post-school options, get employers into schools and simplify the apprenticeship framework for youngsters.
Speaking at the University of Sheffield AMRC with Boeing, one of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult centres, he told TM that “the system and the patchwork of qualifications and quangos that have come and gone over the years is very confusing, and extremely confusing for a youngster having to make choices in their mid-teens to understand how they should navigate themselves through this thicket of different options.”
Many companies are concerned that the long term industrial strategy, detailed by Business Secretary Vince Cable in September 2012, will be torn up by the next government, taking industry back to square one on the hopscotch of policies drawn up by governments to support the manufacturing sector.
The Industrial Strategy could be one of the Liberal Democrats lasting achievements from their time in shared power with the Conservative Party, with Vince Cable and Nick Clegg influential among LibDems in shaping the strategy.
“I can be as assured as I can be with anything in politics, that there has been a shift to favour long term strategic support. We need to be patient and I believe this Government and whoever is in power next will continue with the strategy.”
“Everybody, whether at the right, left or centre of politics, accepts that the painstaking work needed to rebalance the British economy cannot succeed without greater long-term support for manufacturing.”
Mr Clegg believes in a sectoral approach to boost industry and create growth, but that Britain’s ‘manufacturing winners’ and their achievements had been “hidden under a bush, despite making up 11% of the economy, and generating 50% of Britain’s exports.
“All of us in government have been very active in seeking to work with our best manufacturers to promote export opportunities,” explained the MP for Hallam after opening a new training initiative for higher apprenticeships, the Commercial Engineering Framework. The high level training programme, which will see apprentices learning sales skills, business management and languages alongside their engineering skills, was devised by Alison Bettac director of the AMRC Training Centre with the Manufacturing Technologies Association, led by director-general Graham Dewhurst.
Sir Anthony Bamford, chairman of construction equipment maker JCB, has suggested a manufacturing minister in government tasked with delivering the right environment for industry, rather than manufacturing coming under the auspice of a single business minister.
Mr Clegg was “very sceptical about constantly changing the deckchairs in Whitehall,” saying such action would not make a big difference in the real economy.
The deputy prime minister believes that “microeconomic interventionist policies”, like bigger capital allowances, are “starting to have an effect on small and medium-sized companies in industry.”
Mr Clegg said “its difficult for youngsters to understand how they should navigate this thicket of different options. But personally I have turned against the idea that some great structural overhaul is needed.”
He explained that the system needs time to “start bedding down … but with as much employer involvement as possible,” to increase standards in underachieving colleges.
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Tom Moore and Will Stirling