Interview: Labour MP John Woodcock discusses the future of apprenticeships

In this exclusive interview, we speak to John Woodcock, Labour MP for Barrow and Furness and recently appointed shadow skills minister. We discuss the apprenticeship tax, underserved students and what the word ‘‘apprenticeship’’ means to him.

Apprentice Eye caught up with John during the recent Young Fabians apprenticeship event at the House of Commons, pictured below.

Tell me about your experiences with apprenticeships and how you’re currently helping young workers and skills developers around the UK?

Although I now work in politics, I have first-hand experience of what it feels like to be a modern technical apprentice after having taken part in several apprenticeship challenges at a local college in my constituency.

I am in constant listening mode on new developments. Although over 730 young people were hired as apprentices in Barrow and Furness over the past year, the government needs to do more to help all businesses, regardless of size, to take on more apprentices.

What does the word ‘‘apprenticeship’’ mean to you?

Apprenticeships offer wonderful opportunities for our young people to learn on the job. They are routes into careers that cannot be found elsewhere, allowing individuals to gain real experience, benefit from training, and get paid at the same time.

The Conservative government has recently announced plans to introduce an apprenticeship tax, charging all large firms to fund 3m apprenticeships by 2020.  Do you agree with this proposal and do you think it’s achievable?

The Labour party supports the apprenticeship levy and we will be putting pressure on the Government to make sure that all of the apprenticeships delivered are accessible and of a high quality.

Another legal change to apprenticeships is that they will receive the same legal treatment as a university degree. What impact do you think this change will have on apprenticeships?

I think it will have an impact on the perceptions of apprenticeships. Bringing them on an equal footing with university degrees will hopefully make more people realise that these are demanding and rigorous learning opportunities.

Tell me why you think young students are so underserved when it comes to gaining information on apprenticeships?

I think it’s because we need more involvement in educating students on apprenticeships. We need to do much more to spread the word about apprenticeships to younger people. I think we’re getting better at it but more can be done.

It’s not just the government who have work to do on this but schools, parents, local businesses all have a role to play in educating our young children about the range of options open to them after school.

Woodcock speaking at the Young Fabians apprenticeship event in the House of Commons.









There are many critics of modern day apprenticeships who claim that the sector has lost the respectability it once had, particularly during the 1950’s – 1990’s. Do you agree with this notion and how do you think apprenticeships can become respectable once again?

No, apprenticeships remain a vital part of the workforce and I think that they still hold much of the respect that they’ve always had.

Large companies are playing an important role in advertising and promoting their apprenticeship programmes and I believe that the more we can do to promote apprenticeships and to show people exactly what it’s like to be an apprentice, then we’ll soon see perceptions change.

What advice can you give to young people who are undecided whether to go onto further education or undertake an apprenticeship?

Every person is different. What’s right for you may not be right for your friends. Have a think about where you might see yourself in the future and how you feel you might be best placed to get there.

An apprenticeship offers you the opportunity to experience working life whilst expanding your skill set and getting paid. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy then it’s worth considering.

What more can the government do to help small businesses  hire more apprentices?

The Government need to do a lot more to help small businesses to hire more apprentices. Funding is of course one of the key elements to this, but it’s also about engaging with businesses and letting them know what can be gained from running apprenticeship programmes.

You are able to train young people who may become an integrated part of your workforce in the future. The development, retention and utilisation of their skills and experience deliver a direct benefit to your organisation and we need to do more to spread that message.