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Volume 558: debated on Thursday 7 February 2013

14. What proportion of new over-18 apprenticeships have been taken by people in existing employment since May 2010. (141942)

Apprenticeships are designed to help people develop the skills they need to enter an occupation, and to reskill and progress within a job. The 2011 apprenticeship pay survey found that 77% of apprentices had some experience of work with the same employer before the start of their apprenticeship.

Will the Minister undertake to make clear in all statements about apprenticeships how many are new starts in employment, and how many are existing employment? Will he confirm that a lot of the increase in the number of apprenticeships has come from converting the previous Train to Gain scheme into apprenticeships?

It is very important not only for people to enter the workplace, but to improve their skills within it. For instance, 99% of those on management apprenticeships had some previous experience of work in the company, which is to be expected. It is about getting people out of unemployment, but also ensuring that their skills improve while they are in a job.

North London chamber of commerce and Enfield’s Johnson Matthey are tonight hosting a local business awareness of apprenticeships programme, and are determined to exceed last year’s recruitment of 107 new apprentices. Will the Minister offer a message of support for tonight’s event and, in particular, for Mr Barry Connelly of Johnson Matthey of Enfield who has led that programme?

I would be pleased to support Johnson Matthey and the work it is doing to expand the number of people in apprenticeships, and indeed to increase the quality of apprenticeships. I know that the apprenticeships it offers are of high quality and it is well worth raising awareness of that and getting involved.

The Government’s latest figures show that apprenticeship starts for young people under 19 are down by 15%, and Ministers are complacent about the risks to apprenticeships for over 24-year-olds from their further education loan plans. It is obvious that we urgently need a game- changer for apprenticeships, so why is the Minister still ignoring what the Opposition and now the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee have called for: Government procurement contracts, not least on projects such as high-speed rail, to ensure that companies sign up thousands of new apprenticeships in order to win those contracts?

The shadow Minister does rather better when we take politics out of apprenticeships, not least because there has been a record number of apprenticeship starts over the past year. On HS2, I say only that Crossrail—the largest construction project in Europe and signed off by this Government—has precisely the sort of arrangement for which he asks.

Apprenticeships are rightly a focus for the Government, and the extra investment is extremely important and welcome. Does the Minister acknowledge that some companies have a problem when apprentices choose to leave? Will he consider ways in which to compensate the company that puts people through an apprenticeship scheme in the first place?

Ensuring the success—wherever possible—of apprenticeships is important. I will look at the issue the hon. Gentleman raises, but the most important thing in ensuring as high a success rate as possible is that the learning within apprenticeships is as relevant as possible to the company involved. We are working to improve that, and I hope that will reduce the incidence of the problem he describes.

Schools and colleges still do not promote apprenticeships for the most able students as an alternative to university. What are the Government doing to rectify that situation?

That is an important question. This summer, we introduced destination data that showed not only the proportion of children who go to university but the percentage from each school and college that go into apprenticeships. There is a new, important duty on schools to provide independent and impartial guidance. Ofsted will conduct a thematic review—to report in the summer—to show how progress has been made.