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Volume 470: debated on Thursday 10 January 2008

8. What recent discussions his Department has had on the availability of apprenticeships; and if he will make a statement. (177255)

Alongside announcing investment of more than £1 billion in apprenticeships, we are introducing a new national online matching service. We will publish the outcomes of our review of apprenticeships early this year.

I thank my hon. Friend for that response and I welcome the expansion in the number of apprenticeships. Along with that review will come further development. My constituents in Gillingham and Rainham will undoubtedly benefit from apprenticeships. I am worried, however. As this is a regeneration area where much work has been done on identifying shortfalls in skills opportunities and where we need to attract different business sectors, will the Minister ensure that his work matches the provision of services with the expectations identified through other work in other Departments and through local partnerships?

My hon. Friend is right. His area is a growth area requiring substantial housing development over the forthcoming period and the Olympics are not far away, so we need to ensure that our sector skills councils work in tandem with the apprenticeships scheme to produce growth in sectors such as construction across the piece. In respect of big national schemes such as housing, it is important for local adults and young people to come in, secure apprenticeships and benefit the local area.

In answer to the main question and in the earlier exchange on adult apprenticeships, the Minister made much of the quantity of apprenticeships put in place by the Government. Will he give more emphasis to considerations of quality—not just having an inspection regime, but, more importantly, ensuring that our current apprenticeships are relevant for the global skills that will be required for the decades ahead?

Yes. Key to ensuring quality is inspection, which I have to tell the hon. Gentleman did not exist before. It is also key to ensure completion of apprenticeships, which has increased from below 25 per cent. to 63 per cent.—another achievement. It is also important that employers are confident in our apprenticeships, so I was pleased to hear Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco, saying:

“I am a huge fan of apprenticeships because of the benefits they bring to the individual and business”.

Being an apprentice does not mean only learning a trade in a certain discipline; it provides good discipline in many things that affect people’s livelihoods. I would like the Minister to recognise the status of the time-served apprentice, whether female or male. Once that is established, people in this country will be as attracted to apprenticeships as people are in such countries as Germany.

My hon. Friend puts the case brilliantly. It is important to ensure that this group of young people has the same status in our society, frankly, as graduates. That is what we are seeking to achieve in the apprenticeship review, as we understand that, in the end, an apprentice is mentored and assisted in routine, discipline and dedication, which are skills that parents across the country want for their young people. We must ensure that we celebrate the success of these young people, which is exactly what we will seek to achieve in the months ahead.