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Volume 455: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2007

The Government are committed to increasing the number of apprentices to 10,000 by 2010. A new flexible menu of professional and technical training provision entitled “Training for Success” will be available from September this year. There will be two levels of apprenticeship training to suit different abilities and to meet the requirements of employers and industry.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply—but to complete an apprenticeship a person needs work-based training. What is my hon. Friend doing to ensure that those who win public sector contracts offer young people the opportunity to complete their apprenticeships?

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. We recently ran a pilot scheme with Victoria Square, a construction company under contract from the Social Development Department, under which we put in place some 11 or 12 apprenticeships as part of the work let by the Department. That is a good model to consider in the future. We are increasing the number of apprenticeships by 4,000 up to 2010, in parallel to what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is doing in Great Britain. The Labour Government, in stark contrast to the Conservative party, are committed to increasing the number of apprenticeships.

The Minister will know that if we are to achieve a world-class economy in Northern Ireland, we will need to enhance our skills base and improve the skills of our young people so that we can attract inward investment and help indigenous companies to grow. Will the Minister advise me what part the essential skills platform being developed by the Department in Northern Ireland will play in expanding the number of apprenticeships to 10,000 by 2010?

The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that we need to ensure that people in Northern Ireland are skilled for the jobs of the future. We have put in place three levels of apprenticeship. Both apprenticeships for 16 to 24-year-olds are key levels of training, and I hope that the whole House supports the fact that we have also put in place pre-apprenticeship training in schools for 14 to 16-year-olds, so that they can begin to examine the menu of options available to them and enter full apprenticeships after leaving school at 16. Only by ensuring that we have the top level of skills for people in Northern Ireland will we be able to compete with India, China and the rest of the world in due course.