Apprenticeships 'are worth as much as doing a degree' says minister
The minister championing an apprenticeships drive has hit out at the former Labour government that "forgot" 50% of young people who do not go to university.
Devon and Cornwall have seen a 62% growth in the number of people starting apprenticeships in the last two years, with more than 19,500 starting qualifications last year.
The coalition Government has hailed an extra £300 million investment in apprentices to get more people to consider vocational or "on-the-job" training. But Labour has said the investment was doing little to tackle youth unemployment as most of the increase was among those aged over 25.
Some 8,700 apprentice "starts" in Devon and Cornwall last year were over 25 – or around 44% of the total.
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Speaking to regional newspaper journalists ahead of National Apprenticeship Week, which starts on March 11, Matthew Hancock, the skills minister, lauded the qualification as a boon for apprentices, businesses and the economy.
He said that research had indicated a "higher" apprenticeship would add £150,000 to a person's lifetime earnings – equivalent to a degree. "There are no limits to where you can go with an apprenticeship," he said.
The coalition's message contrasts with the previous Labour government, which wanted to increase students going to university to 50%.
In his party conference speech last year, though, Labour leader Ed Miliband proposed a new technical baccalaureate to transform the lives of the "forgotten" 50%.
Mr Hancock told the Western Morning News: "We don't have a target like that (50% to university). We have a target for providing the best possible opportunities that are appropriate for all young children.
"When Ed Miliband complains about the 'forgotten 50%' – it was the Labour Government that forgot them."
But he added "everyone is on the side of pushing more apprenticeships".
Asked whether the public perception of apprenticeships under-valued the qualification, Mr Hancock argued the training was often highly skilled.
He said: "In Britain there is a huge amount of world-class engineering, not least in the west of England. In places like Bristol there are apprentices working with the most high-tech equipment in the world and learning how to make things that are made nowhere else in the world."
The Government does not have a target of the level it wants to increase apprenticeships to but Mr Hancock said he wants to make sure "high-quality apprenticeships are available to everybody".
Last year, 6,260 people started apprenticeships in Cornwall, up 67% from 3,750 two years earlier in 2009-10.
The rise was 50% in Cornwall (7,830 from 5,170), in Plymouth up 71% (3,910 from 2,290) and Torbay was 84% higher (1,670 from 910) over the two years.