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Volume 534: debated on Thursday 27 October 2011

18. What assessment he has made of the difficulties faced by apprentices aged 19 and over in obtaining adequate funding for level 3 qualifications. (76871)

The Government are investing significantly in adult apprenticeships, with earmarked investment of £679 million in 2011-12. We rely on employers coming forward to make places available and many more are doing so every day, week and month. There were 114,900 starts in 2010-11—nearly twice as many as in the previous year—for those aged over 19.

The Minister not only champions apprenticeships but facilitates their delivery and I congratulate him on that. May I ask him to consider introducing a flexible three-year contract for young apprenticeships, with a break clause after year 2, so that there is an equalisation of funding for young apprenticeships on courses both before and after their 19th birthdays?

Knowing my hon. Friend’s expertise and commitment to this subject, when I saw his question I spoke to my officials and got an interesting response from them. I think that if we better estimate at the outset people’s prospects of progression, we may well be able to take account of what my hon. Friend says. I invite him, as I did earlier, to come to the Department to talk that through and to see what changes we can make to remove any disincentives of the kind to which he refers.

The construction industry, the manufacturing sector and apprenticeships all go hand in hand. Will the Minister confirm that the vast majority of the increase in apprenticeships in the past year has been in the over-25s category? Frankly, that is not doing enough to assist with the serious problem of youth unemployment.

The hon. Gentleman is right that there has been a growth in over-25s apprenticeships and he will know that the previous Government commissioned the Leitch report, which said that that was exactly what we needed—to upskill and reskill the work force. Notwithstanding that, however, he will also know that there has been remarkable, unprecedented growth in 16 to 18 apprenticeships and in 19 to 24 apprenticeships over two years. Contrary to the complaints of the carpers and the cringers, the whiners and the whingers, the biggest proportion of growth has been at level 3—that is A-level equivalent.

Having recently served a one-year apprenticeship by the side of the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, I am not surprised by the excellent numbers that were released today on apprenticeships, as his dedication is second to none. May I ask him to say a word on the increase in level 3 apprenticeships, which are equivalent in qualification to A-levels?

My hon. Friend has gone on to other, I am tempted to say greater, things since he served that apprenticeship, and he is right to draw attention once again to the increase at level 3, because there were those, largely drawn from the bourgeois left, who looked down their noses at practical learning and who thought that the most growth would be at level 2, but actually we have facilitated very substantial growth—over 60%—at level 3 as my hon. Friend says. It is a rosy day for the Government and, much more importantly, a rosy day for Britain.