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Volume 472: debated on Thursday 21 February 2008

At the heart of our reforms will be the creation of a new national apprenticeships service to drive up the number of apprenticeship places and ensure that young people and adults get the opportunities to succeed.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the enormous welcome for the investment in my constituency, Calder Valley, which has many high-end engineering companies, but what can his Department do to encourage more young people, particularly girls, and women who have taken career breaks into reskilling through engineering apprenticeships?

My hon. Friend is right to say that in relation to women, there are two issues that are important for engineering. We should make the system flexible enough, and we should have enough advanced apprenticeships to ensure that women returning to work after having children can progress within the profession. I am grateful for the work that we have been able to do to fund WISE—the initiative within engineering to help women return to work—and for the increased places in advanced apprenticeship. The Science, Engineering and, Manufacturing Technologies Alliance and the sector skills councils that cover the range of engineering skills are doing a great deal of work to advertise to women and to ensure that those places are available for them to take up if they want to.

I welcome the importance that the Government attach to increasing the number of apprenticeships, but does the Minister agree that skilled engineers, tradesmen and technicians are in huge demand in the UK economy and that many of the current vacancies are being filled by immigrants? What new emphasis can the Government give to apprenticeships to attract young people in the United Kingdom to take up apprenticeships to fill the vacancies that are so important to the employers of this country?

The hon. Gentleman is right. In a strong economy, in which there has been growth in every quarter, young people in the marketplace compete with people who have arrived in this country from a number of places. That is why we initiated the apprenticeship review, which we published last month. The whole thrust of that is to make it easier for businesses to take on young apprentices and adults. One important thing in relation to engineering, given the size of some of the companies, is group training associations. Through them a small engineering company, perhaps low down in the supply chain, can cluster together with a training provider. There is then a hub and spoke model, in which there is someone to deal with the training and necessary bureaucracy, and the company can have the apprentice it needs.