Home Human Resources NewsTalent NewsApprenticeships News Apprenticeships are the new National Service, it’s time government realised their power

Apprenticeships are the new National Service, it’s time government realised their power

8th Apr 24 3:19 pm

Ever since the last National Servicemen were discharged in 1963 people have been screaming for its reintroduction, mostly as a remedy for the perceived or real failings of ‘modern youth’.

Unemployment, crime, drug use, and a general lack of respect or desire to contribute to society could, many still claim, be sorted out if only the ungrateful children of the war generations were sent to an army boot camp.

And who can blame them? Seventy five years ago National Service was a great idea, uniquely fit for the purpose of rebuilding and reassuring a war-ravaged country. But times have changed enormously.

That doesn’t mean that our recent ancestors from the mid-20th century don’t have something to teach us about discipline, work-ethic and public spirit. I was too young for National Service, but I did do an apprenticeship, which taught me many of the same things, and gave me skills that have fed my family ever since.

Despite missing National Service myself I did start my working life alongside many of the two-million peacetime conscripts, so I know there’s plenty of common-sense in calls to bring back compulsory military service. But I don’t think Khaki uniforms and rifles are the answer for the 21st century.

Unlike 1947 when National Service was brought in, the country doesn’t have a need for thousands of mostly unskilled 17–21-year-olds to help rebuild a battered and bombed out country. And what would our modern hi-tech armed forces do with loads of untrained press-ganged recruits who would be back on civvy-street before they were even half trained.

What we do need however is the discipline and work ethic that 18-months’ worth of military training instilled into the post-war generation, plus one more thing, and that’s the army of skilled workers that the UK is so disastrously lacking.

Back in the day National Service solved a specific problem, the need for a large standing army that could be thrown into battle at short notice, as well as providing the labour needed to put things right in the aftermath of WW2. The discipline and work ethic that came as part of the deal was a valuable side-effect, but not the main purpose.

Today there is also a desperate need, and that’s for skilled labour. We used to have it in droves back in the days when being a bricklayer, a plumber; an electrician or carpenter was a valued occupation. Everyone wants their kids to do well. The problem is they have been brainwashed into believing the only way for that to happen is to go to university.

The big contradiction here of course is that parents also want their children to be able to own a house, something that for millions (graduates included) is increasingly unaffordable. Call me an uneducated plumber if you like, but why wouldn’t we create fewer graduates and build more houses? Surely, it’s not rocket-science?

About a blind man (sorry, a sight impaired non-gendered person) can see where I’m going. We need to train more people, who can build houses and a load of other stuff as well, and we have a growing problem of a work-shy population and rising levels of working-age people signed-off work due to failing mental health.

We have 9.2 million working aged people classed as ‘economically inactive’; that means not working and not looking for work, many of whom, especially in younger age groups, are signed off as long-term sick. This number is 700,000 higher than in 2019.

So the government doesn’t need a load of pretend soldiers, but it does need 300,000 new homes built every year; 10 million domestic electric vehicle chargers installed, and there’s 20 million gas boilers to be changed over to hydrogen, or heat pumps fitted – if they can get them to work properly!

So why not set up a countrywide National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) that conscripts every young person without a job, college or university place into a state funded apprenticeship? I would go further and make NAS available as a second chance to graduates who feel duped by the English Lit or sociology degree they have gone into debt for.

The payoff would be huge. Within a generation we could become the most technically skilled population in the developed world, with a standard of living second to none. The alternative seems bleak, with the general decline in public services and infrastructure we are experiencing now continuing until we hit breaking point. We know what we need in the UK, so why not grasp the nettle and reskill the country while we still have time?

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