In my other life - the day job - I was invited to the government's apprenticeship roadshow. A seminar at Excel with a panel of Alan Sugar, Ed Balls and John Denham, an audience of captains of industry, assorted hangers on ... and myself.
I was one of the few not in a suit, definitely the only one who checked in a crash helmet at the cloak-room, and probably the only member of a Far Left Organisation there.
I don't have a major problem with the apprenticeship drive in itself - it was me who introduced the Modern Apprenticeship scheme at my work - hence the invitation I suppose. Despite its imperfections its not a bad scheme - almost as good as the union-run apprenticeships, and City & Guilds qualifications back in the supposed 'dark ages' of the print industry.
The crowd was a collection of familiar stereotypes - apparachiks from public sector quangos who are serial conference attenders, slimy big business types doing a PR job to show that offering training in shelf stacking is really making a contribution to society, and chippy small businessmen who complain the government should ' do something' to help them but in the same breath moan about being burdened with too much tax, red tape and political correctness.
Ed Balls and John Denham span the government-line with consummate polish whilst giving the impression that they have no idea about manufacturing industry at all. Alan Sugar (can't bring myself to call him 'Sir Alan' ) was greeted like a celebrity - the people's entrepreneur. In comparison to the oily politicians his bluntness was refreshing although he did lose a bit of credibility when in the Q&A session having berated business for not getting involved with the scheme, he also made it clear he has no idea how it actually operates.
In a similar vein at one of the interminable 'networking' breaks I got talking to some worthy from a housing trust - who had a go at me when I voiced my skepticism about how many apprenticeships and vocational courses actually led to proper skilled jobs - I asked him how many apprentices he had taken on in his organisation - the answer was none.
This is not surprising - the government is some 10,000 places behind its own targets for apprenticeships - and the poorest uptake is in the public sector.