In a speech to the Association of Employers and Learning Providers National Conference, Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins has committed an incoming Labour government to revamp careers guidance in schools.

Toby outlined that Labour will make sure that all secondary school pupils receive face-to-face professional careers advice during their schooling alongside a minimum of two weeks’ worth of compulsory work experience.

Setting out the plan, Toby stated “All too often, apprentices that I meet tell me that they weren’t told about apprenticeships at school. Many say that that they left school without engaging with employers and without knowing the opportunities on offer in their local community. It is vital that children and young people are made aware of the wide range of opportunities open to them”.

He added “Labour would ensure every young person leaves education ready for work and ready for life, able to make informed choices about courses and qualifications which set them on the path to success”.


You can read Toby’s full speech at the AELP conference below:


“Thank you for inviting me to address the AELP conference today – I’m delighted to be able to join you at this event.

Ministers and shadow ministers have to be careful what they say about venues they visit, and I am conscious that Hammersmith is a Labour constituency, so I will simply say what a huge pleasure it is to be here in this breath-taking venue, nestled in the foothills of the majestic Hammersmith flyover!

I would also like to say thank you. Thank you to every one of you who has made a difference to a learner’s life. You are involved in a business of national importance, and we don’t say thank you often enough, so thank you to all of you.

I would also like to thank the AELP. The AELP is an important and influential organisation which provides a powerful and knowledgeable voice on issues affecting the sector.

I am grateful for the contribution they make to vocational and technical education – as well as the support that they have given to me personally since becoming Shadow Further Education and Skills Minister.

It is crucial that the opposition’s response to the government is well-informed and widely sourced and the work that Jane Hickie, Simon and others do, on members behalf, is definitely appreciated by those of us who are on the receiving end of their well-thought-out arguments.

The need to ensure that more people make the best use of their abilities is a matter of strategic national significance. Further education and skills providers are literally on the front line of our nation’s battle against the low growth and low productivity which is holding our nation back- and the transformational role that many colleagues present have played in the lives of their learners is something I find inspirational.

Indeed, there is no better advocate for lifelong learning and investment in skills than hearing from the learners themselves, their stories often leave me with a lump in my throat, because I know first-hand the many different pathways there are to success.

It is also crucial that political initiatives in this arena are evidence based, easily understood and focus on the things that will make a real difference. Many of the amendments Labour proposed to the Skills Bill, which indicate the direction of travel Labour will take in government were informed by the representations made by AELP and others.

Seeing people who work across the skills sector and meeting learners on a voyage of discovery, is the very best part of my job. And it’s been my privilege to see many fantastic training providers in action – including organisations like Remit Training, in Derby, where I saw their superb automotive academy and the Construction academy at Skills People Group in Rotherham.

Companies like these are investing substantially to ensure that their learners have access to facilities that closely match that which they will meet in the workplace.

There has never been a more appropriate time to hold this conference, as the sector begins to get to grips with the reality of the Skills Bill and the intricacies of the government’s latest attempt at ‘putting employers in the driving seat’.

It remains unclear what the precise implications of Employer Representative Bodies and Local Skills Improvement Plans will be for independent training providers and I know that many in the sector fear that the narrow nature of the government’s approach could lead to quality providers losing funding to deliver courses that make a huge difference on the ground.

The Skills Bill was a huge, missed opportunity. Attempts across all parties to improve, and clarify the legislation were repeatedly rejected by the government, particularly around enshrining effective stakeholder consultation and representation by employer bodies to ensure that LSIPs become the fully-inclusive documents that we would all want to see.

Labour recognises that there needs to be strong cooperation between employers, colleges, ITPs, local authorities and Metro Mayor’s. It is essential that there exists a skills framework that encourages engagement and collaboration rather than pits providers against each other.

The government has not been short of initiatives but collectively they have created a muddled picture, and whilst we welcome the government’s new found enthusiasm for work experience, we are concerned that too many small businesses are shut out of apprenticeships and that T Levels will not be as widely available as they need to be, particularly in the towns and rural areas of our country.

Labour sees apprenticeships as the gold standard. Our aim is to increase apprenticeship opportunities, particularly for young people and at entry level – making sure that the next generation are able to get onto their first rung of the career ladder.

We need to simplify the system, creating clear pathways and pipelines for employers, learners and professionals across the sector.

As it is highly probable that an incoming Labour government would inherit the current skills system of Employer Representative Bodies and Local Skills Improvement Plans, we are keen to hear from employers, training providers and stakeholders from across the sector to find out what works well and where there is room for improvement.

I am a huge advocate of ITPs, and FE colleges, and both sectors must be able to demonstrate that they are flexible enough to react to labour market needs and able to deliver learning of the very highest quality.

Government has to not only ensure that it has initiatives that are built based on evidence of what works but also that those initiatives are followed through. Too often government has announced new initiatives with great fanfare only to announce subsequently that large amounts of the originally allocated cash remains unspent, either because the criteria are too tightly defined, because the initiative has failed to attract learners or providers or because take up has been below expected levels.

To name just a few examples- we recently learnt that approximately £400m of the college capital fund remained unspent.

Over £2Bn of apprenticeship levy funds were returned unspent, and the ill-fated Get Help to Retrain programme was wound up early with £86m returning to the Treasury.

Whilst the Chancellor appeared to launch an apprenticeship levy review in his budget speech only to row back the following day, across the sector, there is a widespread agreement that change is needed to the levy system.

From large employers decrying the inflexibilities, to SMEs being priced out of apprenticeships and apprenticeship starts for young people in steep decline, it is clear that there needs to be an urgent review.

I am pleased to say that former Education Secretary Lord Blunkett and his council of skills advisers has made good progress on their skills review which will provide recommendations on the apprenticeship levy and we look forward to hearing from the sector on how the issues that exist can be best addressed.

Labour have made education and skills a central policy theme. We want to make Britain the best place to grow up in – and the best place to grow old in.

In his first speech to the Labour Party conference, Labour Leader Keir Starmer set out his commitment to drive up standards on skills recognising that schools have a huge role to play and committing a future Labour government to providing face to face careers guidance for every pupil and an equivalent to two weeks work experience for every child.

So many apprentices that I meet tell me that they weren’t told about apprenticeships at school. Many say that that they left school without engaging with employers and without knowing the opportunities on offer in their local community. Too often schools seem hell -bent on driving as many students as possible towards their own sixth forms without enough alternative options placed in front of children and their parents.

Labour believes that every young person should leave statutory education ready for work and ready for life, able to make informed choices about courses and qualifications which set them on the path to success.

And we will ensure that vocational and technical routes are given parity of esteem with traditional, academic routes.

In this skills system, Labour recognises the valuable contribution that independent training providers make and the unique place that they have within the sector. We are determined to preserve your role, and independence, whilst assisting the sector to drive up standards, invest in infrastructure and ensure that all provision is of a standard we would be happy to send our own children too.

I look forward to working with you, and hearing your experiences, as we look ahead to the next General Election and beyond.

Thank you for the opportunity to address you and I look forward to taking your questions and hearing your perspectives both today and in the future.”


Toby speaking at the Association of Employers and Learning Providers National Conference
Toby speaking at the Association of Employers and Learning Providers National Conference
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