By Charlie Mullins, Founder and CEO, Pimlico Plumbers
Having started out as an apprentice in 1967, Charlie Mullins, founder and CEO of Pimlico Plumbers, has gone on to create the UK’s largest independent plumbing firm. With a current turnover of £20 million, Charlie needs no convincing on the value of apprenticeships for British business.
There are hundreds of thousands of kids going to university every year, and something like twenty applicants for every graduate level job (and that's an average, because in some professions it's much worse). On the other hand we have a skills shortage crisis and the building and manufacturing industry simply crying out for trained workers to keep up with demand.
Of course a fully trained, ready to go apprentice will always find a job before a graduate. Why would any sensible employer risk taking on a graduate employee with no practical experience or knowledge of the working world? To think anything else could possibly be the case shows a similar level of understanding to that of Ed Miliband on business. And to avoid any misunderstanding that's zero knowledge!
And it's not just skills or training that's the issue. Bosses told researchers conducting the report that they were unable to find candidates with a 'positive and proactive approach to work'.
An apprentice has spent the last three or four years working pretty much full time and demonstrating that they have a work ethic and a decent attitude. A graduate has spent the last three years partying and attending lectures - neither of which are particularly relevant or useful to an employer. Even an impressive final grade doesn't demonstrate you're capable in the working world and that you'll turn up on time each day with a smile on your face.
Now perhaps this report isn't a complete loss if by pointing out the glaringly obvious it helps to highlight the real problem. Clearly we are training young people to do the wrong jobs!
The most stupid thing is that we continue to train people, at a phenomenal cost to the country, to do stuff that doesn't need doing, while we refuse to spend money on things that do need doing. We are as stupid as a man who invests in an ostrich farm when there is a bread shortage due to a lack of wheat being grown.
It's so ridiculous that me, a plumber has to point out this stuff, while for the reasons I've pointed out above, we have, and continue to train far too many economists.
As I say, apprenticeships are the way forward to get into a skilled career for life which can be taken anywhere in the world. That's why I'm urging for a national fully funded scheme where Job Seekers Allowance is turned into a job Achiever's Allowance as a way of offsetting the company's training costs, reducing unemployment in young people and building a skilled workforce for the future.
Despite my public disagreement with the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, last week over schools' failing to give good careers advice on vocational education, he's half right about the solution. Yes we need more aggressive 'selling' of apprenticeships to young people, but that's only useful if the government work as hard to fund a scheme like I'm proposing. Otherwise we'll have loads of kids queuing for them, most of whom will be disappointed. I owe everything I have today to my own apprenticeship and young people today deserve the same opportunity.
Excitement really has started to kick on apprenticeships lately and it's starting to look encouraging - we might even get it onto the election agenda as a policy!