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Volume 552: debated on Monday 29 October 2012

3. How many 16 to 18 year-olds started an apprenticeship in the last year for which figures are available. (124977)

4. How many 16 to 18 year-olds started an apprenticeship in the last year for which figures are available. (124978)

Eight hundred and seventy people took up an apprenticeship in Rugby last year, which is an increase of more than 50% since the general election. These are young people who are starting on a process that is vital to them and to the country. Does the Minister agree that, in the same way as for those completing a degree, graduation-style ceremonies should be encouraged as an important way of recognising their achievements?

I agree very strongly with my hon. Friend. The first graduation ceremony was held at Buckingham palace a fortnight ago, and the next will be at York minster on 12 November. I hope that around the country we will have ceremonies of graduation from apprenticeships to show the value that has been added to young people’s lives by this fantastic programme.

It is fantastic that there are so many apprenticeships available, but we are not going to get youth unemployment down if youngsters do not avail themselves of the apprenticeships that are available. Does my hon. Friend find it disturbing—indeed, disquieting —that Barchester Healthcare, which is probably one of the best health care providers, has not been able to fill 500 of the 600 apprenticeships that it has offered? Indeed, it took six months to fill one single paid administrative apprenticeship in its Chelsea office.

The average value of an apprenticeship to the apprentice over their lifetime is more than £100,000, and is often more than a university degree. There has been a sharp rise in apprenticeships in health and social care, but I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the specifics of the case that he raises.

I started an apprenticeship in a factory, along with 50 others, in the days when it took six or seven years to complete—an experience that the Minister could not possibly be expected to understand. Over the years, the decline in genuine apprenticeships has been catastrophic to Britain’s ability to produce for itself, so what will he do to rebuild the real, quality skills that used to be—not any more—the envy of the world?

I would have thought that as a former apprentice the hon. Gentleman would welcome the 500,000 apprenticeship starts over the last year. I entirely agree, however, that we must do more to support quality in apprenticeships, for instance by ensuring that they last for a minimum of one year, and I hope that he will work with me to deliver that.

The Minister will be aware that the recent national apprenticeship scheme pilots achieved a small increase in the take-up of apprenticeships by black and ethnic minority young people, but those pilots have now come to an end. Will he consider using the employer apprenticeship grant to continue to promote diversity and further increase participation by BME young people?

Matthew Hancock: Apprenticeships are a route for all. I welcome the idea of a bid into the second round of the employer ownership pilot from the sorts of groups the hon. Lady talks about. I look forward to such a bid and will consider it along with all the others.