I grew up in Huyton in Knowsley and went to the local comprehensive school. Looking back now I guess mine was the classic northern working-class background. My grandad was a coal miner, my nan worked in a biscuit factory and both my parents grew up in council houses in Liverpool. I left school at 16 and started work at a car factory in nearby Kirkby because there were no options for people like me to go to university back then, even though I had ten O Levels. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home city of Liverpool and the wonderful family I grew up in who taught me the values of hard work and community spirit. But privileged we were not. It was my good fortune to join a subsidiary of General Motors as an apprentice and it changed my life, giving me access to the ladder of opportunity that helped develop me into the person I am today. I became a degree level apprentice and studied one day a week at university whilst working four days a week at the car factory. This gave me the enormous advantage of learning whilst also earning. When I graduated with a degree in Business Studies I had the dual advantage of seven years of work experience and no student debt. Armed with these assets I was lucky enough to enjoy a 27-year business career working all over the world in manufacturing, financial services and technology sectors.
In June 2017 I was privileged to be elected to the House of Commons as the Conservative MP for Chichester. Now as an MP I’m determined to support the drive for more apprenticeships and degree level apprenticeships in particular. They can really help young people make that first important step from the world of education to the world of work; enabling people to gain skills that will be useful to the economy and earn a good living. Getting a head start in the workplace is an advantage, especially in the ever-changing digital age we live in. Even little things like learning to work in teams with colleagues is a soft skill that delivers real benefits to any organisation and is something you can’t learn from a book alone. Furthermore, with a degree level apprenticeship you still get valuable qualifications – the same as if you were at university.
We need to make degree level apprenticeships the next big thing. We must encourage schools to promote them so we increase the opportunity for more young people to get into work whilst continuing their education. The Government is moving in this direction now but we must keep up the pressure and do more. I was lucky… but I don’t want future generations to rely on luck. We can make this a realistic choice for everyone who wants to seize the opportunity that degree level apprenticeships can offer.
See all of the Sutton Trust #BetterApprenticeships campaign guest blogs.