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Apprenticeships (West Midlands)

Volume 506: debated on Thursday 4 March 2010

9. What recent steps he has taken to encourage businesses in Coventry and the west midlands to offer apprenticeships. (320202)

We are taking a number of measures to encourage businesses to offer apprenticeships. The National Apprenticeship Service promotes and expands apprenticeships. Spending has gone up from £832 million in 2007-08 to a planned £1.2 billion next year. In December, we announced an apprenticeship grant for employers that offer £2,500 to employers who offer apprenticeship places to unemployed 16 and 17-year-olds. In the west midlands, the area which my hon. Friend represents, 790 employers have committed to recruiting young people, including 31 employers in Coventry.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. What discussions has he had with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to promote apprenticeships in schools?

We want to promote apprenticeships in many sectors. We are making a particular effort to promote apprenticeships among unemployed 16 and 17-year-olds; that is why we recently announced the apprenticeship grant for employers, which offers £2,500 to employers who offer an apprenticeship. It is urgent that, in the difficult economic times that we have had, we avoid what happened in previous recessions, when young people were unable to find work and then sometimes spent years, or decades, never having a job. We are determined to ensure that that does not happen this time. That is why we are putting so much effort into ensuring that young people have opportunities, and that if they are out of work, that does not turn into long-term and sustained unemployment.

Can the Minister explain why the apprenticeship grant for employers began at the beginning of the calendar year instead of at the beginning of the academic year, making it impractical for small businesses in my constituency, such as James Holden’s business in Honeybourne, to access the scheme, as to support his apprentice he needs him to be able to access courses at South Worcestershire college alongside his apprenticeship?

We want to work with all parts of the economy to make this work for people, including employers and those parts of the education system that participate. I think that this has worked well for the education system. I simply contrast the numbers: a decade ago, we had about 60,000 apprenticeships; last year, we had some 240,000 apprenticeship starts. The truth is that we have brought back apprenticeships as a mainstream part of the labour market. They were in the intensive care ward when the Conservatives were in power, but they are now alive and well, and we are determined to support them in the future.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is a particular difficulty with skills levels in the west midlands, notwithstanding the welcome increase in the number of apprenticeships. One of the reasons for that is the perception among young people that going into industry is a dirty job that is not worthy of their particular talents. Will he undertake to work with employers and the educational system to try to change that culture to get young people with aspirations to use their talents within their local companies and local industry?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Our constituencies neighbour each other and are very similar: they both have many high-quality engineering companies. He is right that despite the fact that these are good jobs, and often quite well-paid jobs, young people are sometimes not attracted to them. One of the things that we have done is to work with the Engineering Employers Federation to set up Manufacturing Insight, whose important job is to go into schools to ensure that engineering is seen as an attractive occupation. Alongside our policies on apprenticeships, I am sure that we can attract more young people to take up careers in manufacturing, because it is critical to the UK economy and represents significant opportunities for them.