Minister Robert Halfon spoke to the Apprenticeship Ambassador Network conference on the importance of high quality apprenticeships to the government skills agenda

The Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP


I’m delighted to be here today with so many enthusiastic apprenticeship champions at this spectacular venue.

This building’s first stone was laid in 1739 – yet Mansion House was not completed until 19 years later. Recruiting more construction apprentices should have been a priority!

Today, my mission is to ensure that high-quality apprenticeships create a ladder of opportunity to boost our country’s skills, growth and productivity.

We need to expand these opportunities for people of all ages. They need to see the full picture of their career options to make informed choices.

And we need employers to take on apprentices in greater numbers – particularly SMEs. Nurturing apprentices’ talent can secure a competitive advantage, and equip the workforce with skills to enhance productivity.

Apprenticeship Ambassador Network

I want to thank you all for your work as Apprenticeship Ambassadors. You have excellent leadership in Anthony Impey, Kathryn Marshall, Tom Culley – and the regional employer and apprentice Chairs.

It’s a magnificent achievement that the network now extends to almost 900 employers, and over 350 apprentice ambassadors.

You demonstrate the incredible impact of apprenticeships on employers and apprentices – helping to change the mindsets of business leaders and young people.

This is why the Government is investing in high-quality apprenticeships – with funding reaching £2.7 billion by 2024-25. Because apprenticeships are the catalyst to driving forward a better future.

You are helping us build a revitalised apprenticeship programme by spreading the word.

I applaud your aim to have an Ambassador partnered with every secondary school and college in England over the next 3 years.

That’s no mean feat – there are over 3,500 of them!

And to get Ambassadors to buddy-up with small businesses – they’ll listen because you’re a trusted voices on what apprenticeships can offer.

Your Network’s new strategy is a charter for government’s decision to bring about a skills revolution. Together, we will accomplish it.

Pillars of reform

The ‘A’ badge I’m wearing features a ladder.

High-quality apprenticeships provide people with a Ladder of Opportunity, which is held up by 2 pillars.

The first is opportunities and social justice.

To every young person I meet, my message is:

‘No matter who you are, or where you are from, or whatever career you want to do – an apprenticeship will open doors for you’.

I’ve read about Amy Groves, one of your Apprentice Ambassadors from Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. Amy left school at 16, and worked in a fish and chip shop for a few years. While her friends were getting ready to go to university, Amy wanted to find her own way. But no one told her about the power of apprenticeships.

At 24, Amy realised her friends had graduated and landed good jobs – paying far more than the chip shop.

Amy decided to take a risk. She left her job and took a temporary contract on the HR helpdesk at Lloyds Bank. She described how it opened her eyes to a whole new world, to people from all backgrounds and cultures.

Amy described how she “fell in love with the opportunities”.

The she saw an advert for the bank’s IT group apprentices.

She says:

“I read the job description. Then I read it again. Each time the jargon didn’t make sense – but I picked out the keywords of collaboration, communication, and willingness to learn.

Well, that’s me right there.”

Amy has now been an apprentice at Lloyds Banking Group for 3 years. She’s completed Level 3 IT Solutions Technician, and is working towards a Level 4 DevOps apprenticeship.

Amy is evidence – apprenticeships do transform lives. We need these opportunities reach the people who need them most. This includes low-income groups, minority communities, and those who have left care.

That’s why the apprenticeships care-leavers’ bursary is being increased to £3,000 from August 1st, and employers and training providers will continue to get £1,000 each in funding for every care leaver they take on.

Talent is not defined by geography, or circumstance, or heritage. People are our country’s greatest assets, and we have a responsibility to ensure everyone can make a positive contribution socially and economically.

Social justice demands that any disadvantaged person can aspire to do a Degree Apprenticeship. These prestigious qualifications allow apprentices to earn while they learn, and graduate free from student debt.

Level 6 and 7 apprenticeships now make up more than 1 in 10 of all new apprenticeships starts. 94% of Level 7 apprentices from the 2019/20 academic year are in sustained employment. Level 6 achievers earned a median income of over £34,500 after achieving – and Level 7 achievers earned nearly £39,000.

There’s an incredibly diverse range of higher-level apprenticeships at Levels 6 and 7 as well – going well beyond management – including Police Constable, Registered Nurse, Chartered Surveyor and Teacher. They are providing alternative pathways into these sought-after professions.

These are opportunities we need to keep amplifying, loudly!

We’ve allocated £8 million of funding to Higher Education providers to grow Degree Apprenticeship provision. That ties in with the Second Pillar of the Ladder – strengthening Higher and Further education. For the latter, we are continuing to bolster the post-16 system to support outstanding teaching, high-quality provision and well-run training providers.

First rung of the ladder

The Ladder of Opportunity has 5 rungs.

The first rung is careers empowerment. Careers information must be about work experience and skills.

I travelled the country from Sunderland to Oldham, from Sheffield to Basingstoke, during National Apprenticeship Week. I heard many apprentices had found out more about apprenticeships from friends, family, Instagram, and Tik Tok than they had at school.

This has to change – and let me be clear, this will change.

We need to get careers advice right every single time. It has to be impartial and comprehensive, presenting every option.

When you arrived in London today, you had a choice of routes. Get to Mansion House by tube, taxi, bus, or walk. You knew the options to complete your journey.

Like a travel app, careers empowerment will help students make the correct choices using the most up-to-date information.

And this is where you come in – to make sure young people also hear about apprenticeships from those who’ve been there and done them (and got the badge).

Second rung of the ladder

The second rung of the Ladder of Opportunity is about championing apprenticeships and skills that employers need.

I want to emphasise here why SMEs are integral to the success of programmes such as apprenticeships and T Levels.

SMEs are our great innovators, building new businesses and broadening the economy. It’s an economic imperative that we connect more SMEs to technical education students.

Evidence shows SMEs are more likely to employ younger people learners compared to larger employers. In 2020-21, 83% of new apprenticeship recruits who started with an SME were under 25 years old. And SMEs have an impressive track-record in hiring people in disadvantaged areas.

Our support extends to paying 95 per cent of the training costs for SMEs. But we recognise that they face barriers in engaging with technical education – an issue I want to resolve. SMEs can soar ahead, if they can access the rich potential of highly-skilled employees.

We know SMEs are time-starved, dealing with the daily pressures of running a business in a fierce economic climate. One thing I can guarantee is that my time is always available to them, regarding apprenticeships hire. I’m looking at how we can to support them to take-on more – no measures or solutions are off the table.

We have already committed to meaningful steps to help SMEs get behind apprenticeships in greater numbers.

We will make it easier and quicker for larger employers to agree the transfer of funds to SMEs to enable them to take on more apprentices – and help ensure training providers receive timely payment.

Since 2021, 320 employers – including as Amazon, Nat West, B&Q, John Lewis, Serco, National Grid, and Asda, have pledged to transfer over £21 million to support apprenticeships in other businesses.

Future changes will allow the employer transferring funds to give greater control and autonomy to the SME, so they can use funds without further approvals.

This year, we also plan to double the number of starts on the ‘Skills Bootcamp: Pathway to Accelerated Apprenticeships’ model. This is all about progression – allowing individuals to get ‘in’ via a Bootcamp, and then get ‘on’ to an apprenticeship.

And the focus is on speed – enabling learners to access an accelerated apprenticeship, which they wouldn’t have been able to do previously.

For SMEs, we understand there can be issues attracting candidates, including costs, especially in the digital arenas. SMEs can recruit directly off a Bootcamp at no cost – and they gain someone who has already tested their new career and developed new skills.

This means these candidates hit the ground running from day one. And they become occupationally competent more quickly. There is compelling evidence that learners can speed up their apprenticeship journey by between 3 to 6 months, which includes their Bootcamp stint.

In Wave One of the Bootcamps, SME engagement stood at 76%. This means that SMEs were heavily involved in the design and delivery – as well as recruiting Bootcamp graduates.

We are also targeting SMEs who have expressed interest in apprenticeships, providing additional multi-channel support to help them take the next steps.
We’re scaling up the SME helpline which provides direct support – and linking up the Network, so you can buddy with 3,000 new SMEs in their early stages. This means SMEs can avoid common pitfalls and learn best practice techniques quickly – from the experts.

We are also making it simpler and quicker for an SME to take on their first apprentice. This will be achieved with a redesigned registration process that aims to overcome common challenges SMEs have told us about. We do listen.

This reduces the need for unnecessary processes – and allows an employer to ask the training provider to do more of the account administration (where they want this). There will also be new enhanced advice and guidance via GOV.UK specifically for SMEs, including new peer-to-peer videos.

In addition, we are also simplifying our funding rules to be more straightforward for employers, providers and apprentices – so that they can focus on delivery, not administration.

Rules will be removed where we don’t need them, and streamlined where we do. We have also committed to publishing the draft rules as early as possible, to help businesses to adapt to them.

I am on the side of SMEs – and am already looking for more we can do in the future.

Third rung of the ladder

The third rung of the Ladder is about high-quality qualifications. High quality is the DNA of apprenticeships – I will never compromise on quality.

We now have over 640 apprenticeship Standards, designed by employers, for employers covering science, fashion, engineering, broadcasting, sport, construction. The opportunities are endless!

Apprenticeship Standards are rigorous, challenging, and robust, because they have to meet the needs of employers. And apprentices must have the confidence that they will acquire the skills and knowledge they need in the global talent race.

Fourth rung of the ladder

The fourth rung of the Ladder is lifelong learning.

We need to give people the opportunity to train, retrain, and upskill throughout their lives to respond to the changing demands of businesses.

The robots are coming, but we’ll always need skilled people. The trick is to make sure people can gain those skills when the economy shifts.

Fifth rung of the ladder

The fifth rung, at the very top of the Ladder, is job security and prosperity.

The skills system has to support people into secure, sustained, and well-paid employment.


Apprenticeships represent everything I believe – education, aspiration, hard work and commitment.

I know that you all believe this too.

On your conference website, there’s a quote:

‘Never underestimate the influence that you have on others’.

That sums up why I, the DfE, employers, apprentices, students, local communities, and the country needs your advocacy and enthusiasm for apprenticeships.

Together, we can all inspire and excite everyone we reach – to build growth, productivity and opportunities for all.

Published 28 March 2023