[Relevant documents: The Fifth Report from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, on Apprenticeships, HC 83, and the Government response HC 899.]
I beg to move,
That this House notes National Apprenticeship Week, established by the previous Government, and held from 11 to 15 March 2013, which celebrates the value of apprenticeships, particularly in providing opportunities and developing skills; further notes the need to increase apprenticeship places; and therefore resolves that the Government uses the billions of pounds committed to public procurement to boost apprenticeships by requiring firms winning public contracts worth over £1 million to offer apprenticeship opportunities, implementing the recommendation of the Fifth Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, HC 83, on Apprenticeships.
It is a pleasure and honour for me as shadow Minister responsible for apprenticeships to open this debate in national apprenticeship week. Back in 2008, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr Denham), then the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, launched apprenticeship week as a vehicle to promote the real and valuable opportunities that apprenticeships offer. It is a tribute to him that national apprenticeship week has since become a central part of the employment and skills calendar.
This is a week in which excellence and aspiration in learning, and acquiring skills and trades in areas as diverse as engineering, construction, the hospitality industry, joinery, accountancy, and health and social care, are showcased and celebrated. To see so many MPs from all sides of the House getting involved and celebrating apprenticeship achievements in their constituencies is a great thing. We must remember, however, that apprenticeships did not emerge from a blank canvas in 2010, as some Government Members have occasionally implied.
When Labour came to government in 1997 the apprenticeship programme was floundering. We resurrected that historic badge of excellence and made it fit for purpose in the 21st century. Under the previous Labour Government, the number of apprenticeships more than quadrupled. National apprenticeship week was launched to give expanded life chances and skills a focus for recognition and celebration, and the Labour Government also set up the National Apprenticeship Service to drive the project all year round.
If it was all going so swimmingly under the previous Government, why in a period of continued economic growth did youth unemployment double and the number of those not in education, employment or training increase year on year?
The hon. Gentleman was obviously not listening to what I said because the Labour Government quadrupled the number of apprenticeships in that period. Let us be mature and grown-up about this: no Government of any persuasion have an exact monopoly of success or failure in any particular area. What matters are the intentions that are brought to the party, and our intentions were very strong and solid.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we can all learn a lot from companies such as Airbus, which has trained thousands of apprentices over 30 years at both Broughton and Filton? Importantly, it has trained people in bad economic years as well as good. We need a consistent approach to apprenticeships, not the stop-start approach that we have seen over many years.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I would go further and say that a number of large companies—BAE Systems, for example, where I was last Thursday—have led the way on this issue including with their supply chain. It remains to be seen whether the Government take that message across a broader palette.
My hon. Friend and I worked together on skills and apprenticeships for many years and, like me, he will know that the tragedy of our economy is that only about 10% of employers take on apprentices. If we could get the other 90% to take on an apprentice, we could really do something for young people in this country.
I had the enormous pleasure of serving under my hon. Friend when he was the Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, and he has probably taught me as much as anyone in this House on this subject. He is absolutely right and he hits the nail on the head: a step-change in the number of apprenticeships is central. It is the focus of our motion.
We resurrected that historic badge of excellence, but this is not a matter for party politics. When the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) was the Minister with responsibility for apprenticeships, he spoke movingly about what he had learned about the value of the skills of hand and eye from his father. I, too, saw those skills through the working life of my father as an engineer. When he was apprenticed at the age of 14 to the engineering company Crossley Brothers in Manchester just before the second world war, my grandfather told him, “Now Crossleys has taken you on, you will have a job for life.”
Today’s apprentices often face very different challenges and prospects, because many young people can expect to go through half a dozen job or career changes in their lifetime, some probably not even thought of when they start their apprenticeship. That means it is critical to get the mix of bespoke and portable skills right at the apprenticeship stage; and that the range, content and quality remain relevant to the businesses and local economies in which they are embedded. These are challenging issues that demand a co-ordinated and hands-on approach from government, as well as from businesses and educators.
On what can be done at a local level to celebrate apprenticeships week, I am having a jobs and apprenticeships fair in Bishop Auckland on Friday. I expect 100 jobs and apprenticeships to be available to young people. Does my hon. Friend agree that the background need is to get the economy moving? Unemployment in my constituency is still rising, and seven people are looking at every vacancy.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Jobs and skills fairs give a sense of buzz and direction, but we need to look at the position of regional economies. That is a particular problem in the north-east, not least since the excellent lead given by One North East is no longer available.
I will make a bit more progress and then let the hon. Gentleman come in if he wishes.
As MPs, we rightly celebrate the individual successes we observe. I have seen it myself in the development of the 19-year-old women whom I took on in my office as an apprentice. She has come from the excellent Blackpool and Fylde college and is doing an NVQ3. I know that sense of engagement is shared by other parliamentary colleagues who have taken on apprentices, or who are in the process of doing so.
In my work inside and outside Westminster in the past year, I have seen the strength of diversity and quality in apprenticeships in the skillset schemes at the BBC’s MediaCity site and the food and hospitality apprentice achievements that People 1st celebrated here. Last week, I visited Hackney community college to hear about the new apprenticeship opportunities it is creating as a result of the Tech City developments, and in Lancashire, as I said, I talked to apprentices at BAE Systems’s engineering school, and at the defence company MBDA just outside Bolton. This Thursday, I will be handing out apprenticeships awards at—what better place? —Blackpool tower. Those experiences have reinforced—for me and, I think, for all of us—the need for a broad range of apprenticeship pathways that cover not just traditional manufacturing sectors, but professional and service sectors. The common denominator has to be quality.
Despite that good work—and that of other initiatives; we welcome the extra apprenticeships that Barclays has just announced—it cannot be the substitute for systematic broader government action. The take-up of apprenticeships remains challenging and, in some categories, dire. We have already seen the number of 16-to18-year-old apprenticeship starts fall by 9,200 in the first three months between August and October 2012, in comparison with the same period in 2011.
Is my hon. Friend as shocked as I am to discover that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, with a staff of approximately 2,500, appears to employ only one apprentice under the age of 19? Would today not be a good day for the Minister to make an announcement that he will put that right, put his own house in order and set an example for everybody else?
We should never tempt providence, but I am sure the Minister has heard my hon. Friend’s remark, which I shall return to later.
The final figures for 2011-12 also show that the number of 16-to-18 apprenticeships has dropped in four of England’s nine regions, including by more than 2,000 in my own north-west region. The growth figures for other age groups—not least 19 to 24-year-olds, which is a crucial age when many, for whatever reason, have missed out first time around—are modest.
I take a bipartisan approach to these things, but is not one worry the fact that it is difficult for people promoting apprenticeships to get into schools, many of which resist apprenticeships because they want to keep bums on seats in return for the financial reward? That is very common.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) is telepathic, because I shall be returning to that point later.
The Government are fond of saying that they have created more than 500,000 apprenticeships, but less fond of saying that in axing Train to Gain they also axed more than 500,000 training places. Many of these additional apprenticeships are merely relabelled and transferred in-work provision from Train to Gain, as Doug Richard, the entrepreneur behind the Government’s commissioned report, confirmed last week and as has been shown by detailed analysis from the sector publication, FE Week, which the Skills Minister and I read with great relish every week.
Government statistics in the Richard review have borne that out. The proportion of apprenticeships that are in-work apprenticeships rose to 70% in 2012 in comparison with 48% in 2007, so the Government’s figure of 500,000 hangs entirely on the huge growth in post-25 apprenticeships. If significant numbers of these fall away as a result of an adverse reaction to the Government’s controversial FE loans system, the fragility of their much-trumpeted figure of 500,000 will be rapidly exposed.
Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Willmott Dixon, a developer and construction company in my constituency, on having just invested £1 million in a new apprenticeships college? It has already had the privilege of being visited by the shadow Secretary of State, who has seen the good work it does. Will he support that?
I will indeed support what my hon. Friend has said, and would add that Willmott Dixon, among other companies, has had some interesting things to say about the role that social value can play in apprenticeships and procurement.
Addressing not just fall-out at post-24, but the ability to fall in at 16 to 18 and 19 to 24 should be a crucial part of any Government apprenticeships strategy. That means exposing them to the world of work and work experience at a much earlier age; giving space and dedicated funding in the curriculum for independent, face-to-face career guidance on apprenticeships; and making space for vital work-related learning skills, as the Federation of Small Businesses said in its publication, “The Apprenticeship Journey”.
The Prime Minister said yesterday in Buckinghamshire that he wanted to make apprenticeships a first-choice career move, so perhaps he could have a word with the Secretary of State for Education, who appropriately is in his place, but who has studiously ignored and devalued the arguments for vocational careers advice made by business groups and, indeed, by his own small and medium-sized enterprises apprenticeships adviser, Jason Holt, in his report last August.
No wonder businesses are dismayed. When the Government removed compulsory work-related learning from the key stage 4 curriculum in 2012, the FSB said:
“We remain deeply concerned that without it many schools may fail to teach these vital skills.”
The Prime Minister also said yesterday rather airily that he wanted Britain to be more like Germany in its attitude to apprenticeships, so perhaps he, too, should listen to Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, who has come back from looking at Germany’s apprenticeships system and told FE Week this week that Germany’s “very effective” apprenticeships system is supported
“with a greater focus on vocational training”
in schools “earlier on.” If we want the broadest spectrum of young people, including those not in education, employment or training, to be able to take up apprenticeships, we must give them a fair chance to get there. We and others have been urging for months the need for a proper pre-training route.
My hon. Friend is making a strong speech. Perhaps the Prime Minister could take some lessons from Wales. I am proud to have ACT Training in my constituency, which is one of Wales’s largest apprenticeship training providers, training 5,000 apprentices last year, with a 90% completion rate. Will he join me in welcoming the announcement this afternoon by the Deputy Minister for Skills in the Welsh Labour Government? He has announced an additional £22 million of support over the next two years for apprenticeships, which is quite a contrast to the approach of the Government in this place.
That support is entirely welcome. Indeed, there might be more occasions when the current Government should look at examples from the devolved nations.
Ever since the Government admitted the need to guarantee that quality apprenticeships would have to be 12 months or longer, we have been pushing these points. That is the only way to ensure that social mobility and apprenticeship expansion can go hand in hand. However, the Government have dithered and dallied, and precious opportunities have been squandered for many young people. The traineeship consultation, which is welcome, was launched only at the beginning of this year, but now the Government have to spell out in detail how they will avoid it becoming a rerun of the youth training scheme of the 1980s, which merely recycled young people off the jobless figures.
The Labour party recognises, therefore, that we need a step change to expand apprenticeship opportunities for young people and to support smaller businesses to take part. That is why, this time last year in Blackpool, I laid out a series of apprenticeship initiatives from our Front-Bench team to do just that. They include Government expansion and encouragement of group training associations to aid smaller businesses and the promotion of best practice in buddying, with larger companies working with smaller ones in their supply chains to create apprenticeships, as well as a larger direct role for business and industry in creating and setting apprenticeship frameworks and direct involvement in careers advice and guidance.
I will not plug my jobs fair—which is taking place at 9.30 this Friday at the Vale of Ancholme school in Brigg—but one thing the shadow Minister has not mentioned is the important role of local government in supporting apprenticeships. I wonder whether he has had the opportunity to look at Conservative-run North Lincolnshire council, which created 60 apprenticeships last year and has this year put aside £250,000 to support local businesses in employing 120 apprentices.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has made what is not just a detailed point, but an important general point: that these things cannot simply be delivered and micro-managed in Whitehall. They need to be taken forward at the local and sub-regional level. He gave an example, and I welcome apprenticeships coming from councils of whatever political persuasion. I shall have a little more to say about that later.
Again, I am not trying to make party political points, but have we not all found that if we are to have apprenticeship champions, we have to locate them somewhere? Whether they are in local enterprise partnerships, chambers of commerce, local authorities, colleges or anywhere else, we have to have champions if we are to get the number of apprenticeships this country deserves.
My hon. Friend is quite right. When different places choose different champions in different sectors, the secret is getting them to co-operate with each other.
Last year we laid out all the measures I have set out in this debate, but the centrepiece is something that the Government could move to tomorrow if they wanted to: using the tens or even hundreds of billions of pounds of public procurement that come from Government contracts to create apprenticeships. That is the core of today’s motion. As far back as August 2011, we set out our stall, when the then shadow Business Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen, announced that we would require all companies bidding for Government contracts above £1 million to put in place a scheme to create apprenticeships before they could get them. That is an initiative to do much of the heavy lifting that we need to provide the step change, the exponential shift, in the sheer volume of apprenticeship numbers. Since then, his successor, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), has taken that proposal forward on every possible occasion, not only on the ground of the economic necessity for growth but as an ethical imperative. That is why, last week at the EEF, he outlined our position, which is that it is simply unacceptable that two thirds of larger employers are still not offering apprenticeships.
It was my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen who laid out the direction of travel for this initiative when we were in government. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), he launched the official Office of Government Commerce guidance encouraging this approach. That Labour Government then proceeded with major projects such as the Kickstart housing scheme, launched by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), and Building Schools for the Future, as well as working with the contractors on the Olympic park, which resulted in the creation of thousands of new apprenticeship opportunities.
My hon. Friend is making an important point. We have learned this week that young people in areas such as Tameside are now among those with the fewest opportunities to access the jobs market, yet it was Labour-controlled Tameside council, working with a Labour Government, that ensured that the contractors for schemes such as Building Schools for the Future took on apprenticeships as part of the Tameside Works First initiative.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As a native Mancunian, I am well aware that over the past 20 to 25 years, the local councils in the Greater Manchester area have done splendid work in this respect.
I was talking about Building Schools for the Future and the contractors on the Olympic park. It is also sometimes forgotten that it was our party, in government, that ensured that skills and apprenticeships would be an integral part of the Crossrail project that we had announced. It was our party that put in place the tunnelling academy and laid the framework for a procurement strategy based on taking apprentices from the local London boroughs.
That is what we believe, but more than that, it is what a raft of other bodies believe as well. Most recently and significantly, the cross-party Business, Innovation and Skills Committee ended its 11-month inquiry into apprenticeships and, in its recent report, called on the Government to adopt such a scheme. The Committee argued that the Government should aim for the benchmark used by many leading businesses in the construction sector, including Kier, Wilmott Dixon and Laing, whereby for every £1 million spent by Government Departments and their agencies on public procurement, at least one new apprenticeship place should be created.
That sensible approach has already attracted many supporters. The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, the Association of Colleges, the National Union of Students, the North-East Federation of Small Businesses, the North-East chamber of commerce and many others endorsed the approach when it was set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) in her excellent private Member’s Bill last year. During the Select Committee sessions, organisations such as JTL and unionlearn also backed the procurement concept.
Despite all that, this Government continue to refuse to act. Their response to the Select Committee report cited rather vague unintended negative consequences as their excuse for ducking the issue. They said that they were
“currently working on guidance to encourage best practice amongst local authorities in relation to Apprenticeship conditions in construction contracts”.
Why has it taken them more than two and a half years to get to this point? After all, does not such a starting point already exist in the form of the OGC guidance that I referred to earlier? Why are the Government reinventing the wheel?
It has also been suggested that civil servants fear that they could fall foul of EU procurement rules. The Minister’s illustrious predecessor, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, ruefully admitted to the Select Committee last May that he felt that the Government could be more creative in their use of procurement. That position has also been confirmed by the House of Commons Library, which points out that the European Commission has a guidance note entitled “Buying Social: a Guide to Taking Account of Social Considerations in Public Procurement.” That guidance suggests that promoting “employment opportunities”, “decent work” and access to training can be taken into account. Those guidelines are surely compatible with promoting apprenticeships.
I am delighted to do so. That is another indication that Conservatives down in Kent seem to do things rather differently from Conservatives in Government.
As I was saying, could it be—perish the thought—that some Ministers are simply using European Union law as a convenient smokescreen to disguise their reluctance to support this kind of active, intelligent Government initiative? If that is the case, what do they think that our French or German counterparts would do? Do they think that they would allow arcane, untested notions of EU law to prevent them from expanding apprenticeships, given the dire unemployment rates among young people that exist under this Government? Why, if that is the case, does one of the Government’s own Departments claim to be following an approach much like ours?
Since July 2011, the Department for Work and Pensions has been operating its apprenticeships and skills requirement contract schedule, which requires:
“The Contractor shall and shall procure that its Sub-contractors shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that 5% of their employees are on a formal apprenticeship programme.”
The apprenticeships Minister himself praised the DWP initiative in a recent House of Commons response. That is all well and good, but if the initiative is such a good idea, why have the Government not extended it to other Departments? Why has the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as the lead Department for apprenticeships, not taken matters any further in the 20 months since the launch of that initiative? Why have the Cabinet Office, the Deputy Prime Minister, and even the occupants of No. 10—who waxed eloquent yesterday about the value of apprenticeships being the new norm—done nothing? That is not exactly the equivalent of Churchill’s “action this day”. Are this Government so supine, so conflicted and so hung up that they prefer taking away people’s employment rights to creating career opportunities for them? Does it not boil down to the resistance of many, if not all, in the Tory-led coalition to any active, intelligent role for Government which would require them to strain every sinew to promote economic growth and expand young people’s life chances?
The Government cannot and should not micro-manage, but they must expand apprenticeship places more vigorously and systematically than they are at present. That is central to what we need to achieve as a country so that we can compete and thrive in the 21st-century world. It is no wonder that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made the expansion of apprenticeships with employers and other stakeholders, and the introduction of the “tech bacc”, the central focus in his speech to the Labour party conference last year. He has also spelt out the way in which a future Labour Government could apply the same criterion to major infrastructure projects such as High Speed 2, with the objective of creating at least 33,000 additional apprenticeships.
We can see how the same formula could be applied directly elsewhere, and in other Departments beside the DWP. For example, there are four existing road projects announced by the Department for Transport—work on the A160 and A180 in Immingham, on the M6 in the west midlands, on the M3 in Surrey, and on the M275 in Portsmouth—with a combined contract value of more than £400 million, from which hundreds of apprenticeship places could be created. If the Government really want to expand apprenticeships, why will they not practise what they preach and implement these sensible proposals? After all, what better spur can there be for the two thirds of businesses that still do not offer apprenticeships than the knowledge that they are crucial to the Government, and also crucial to their working with the Government?
As Members have said, we need to see Government Departments themselves opening up and offering more apprenticeships. The most recent data available to us on BIS are those mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak. Spurred by the cogent arguments advanced repeatedly over the past year by my colleague in the other place, Lord Adonis, the Government should be introducing an apprenticeship fast stream for the civil service. Ministers have now announced belatedly that they will be running such a scheme, but we are still waiting to hear—and it would be interesting if we could hear today—just how committed to it individual Departments will be. The Cabinet Office, for example, was far from forthcoming when I asked parliamentary questions about this earlier this year. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition summed the position up perfectly in an article at the end of January in which he said:
“Whitehall takes 500 of the brightest graduates from our top universities every year and fast-tracks their careers on good salaries. Let’s give the same opportunities to youngsters who are ready to knuckle down and learn on the job, in tough apprenticeship schemes. It should start in the offices of ministers in the Government.”
We believe that any new apprenticeships created via this procurement route need to be high quality, a point echoed by the Doug Richard review recommendations.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. I am thinking in particular about the 16 to 18-year-olds in Oldham who are not in education, employment or training; the level there is more than 8.6%, which is well above the regional average. We have seen so many Government U-turns in the past few weeks, so is he hoping that they might do a U-turn on this issue, too?
We wait with bated breath to see what might occur in the Budget, and I hope that the Skills Minister might use his good offices with the Chancellor in that respect.
Labour Members believe that this apprenticeship route has to be a high-quality one. We have to have that because we have had problems in the past with the duration of apprenticeships, and it took some time for the Government to move on that. These issues of quality are being addressed by our Labour skills taskforce. It is taking forward details of our proposals, which the Leader of the Opposition announced last autumn, drawing on the practical experience of business, the further education sector and elsewhere. That is why we are seeking not only to boost the number of apprenticeship places available, but to address the situation pre-18 by introducing a new technical baccalaureate.
While the Government have been dithering nationally about how to expand apprenticeships and ignoring procurement policies, Labour local authorities have been leading the way. A number of Labour-run authorities are going ahead with public procurement to create new apprenticeships for young local people eager for those opportunities. For example, Sheffield city council has identified 233 additional apprenticeships that it can create via public procurement where it has set its requirements at £100,000. Sandwell’s council has done something similar, aiming to create just under 200 apprenticeships through public procurement in the next three years. Other councils, such as my local authority in Blackpool, are boosting numbers in other innovative ways. It already has 48 apprentices on the books, but my local council is working with other local public sector bodies, such as the police force and the NHS, to create shared apprenticeships across those bodies. One could add to that other Labour councils such as those in Reading and Plymouth that are actively engaging with local businesses to boost apprenticeship opportunities across their boroughs, as well as the city skills hubs of Manchester and Leeds.
What is telling about that story of activity in local government is that, as we have heard, even Conservative-run local authorities realise the merits of that approach. For example, Kent county council has put in place criteria whose details closely mirror ours: procurement for all contracts worth more than £1 million should create at least one additional apprenticeship place. Northamptonshire county council has also put in place mandatory requirements on all contracts over the value of £2 million. In addition, there are those in the Prime Minister’s own parliamentary party who have argued that something has to be done, with perhaps the sharpest example being the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). Last year, that redoubtable Member made similar suggestions that government should be using public procurement to boost apprenticeships.
That shows the range of consensus on the need to act now. It is a consensus that has been built by a determination to do something to kick-start us out of a dire, flatlining economic situation, which has the potential to put thousands of young people at risk. The Opposition are advocating a useful change that has the potential to transform the life chances of thousands of young people. It offers them the opportunities they are crying out for, and sends a clear message to business that apprenticeships matter and add real value to a firm. If we will the ends, we must will the means. It is time for the Government to stop tying themselves in tortuous knots when they are put on the spot by the wise words of the Select Committee.
The Skills Minister has repeatedly said that apprenticeships are at the heart of the Government’s skills strategy. As many of his Tory colleagues in local government agree with our approach, why does he not take this modest proposal forward? He has the opportunity. We have a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills that already has a Minister with two brains and a Secretary of State in two minds about ring-fenced funding and economic growth. Now I wait with bated breath to see whether the Under-Secretary of State for Skills will be able to say the right thing for his two Departments this afternoon.
Abraham Lincoln—or perhaps it was Daniel Day-Lewis—famously said that when
“the occasion is piled high with difficulty”
we must rise to it, and
“As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”
That is our proposal today. When our economy and this Government’s strategy are flatlining, we must act anew. A public procurement policy for apprenticeships would start to transform the numbers and the life chances of tens of thousands of young people. It makes economic sense, but it is also the right thing to do. We believe in a one nation Britain with not only social cohesion and fairness but economic cohesion, in which apprenticeships have a firm stake. That is why we have put the proposal centre stage today and that is why I am proud to move the motion.
I can join the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) in making one point: we are all in the Chamber today to celebrate apprenticeships on the second day of national apprenticeship week. I was privileged this morning to meet Jenny Westworth, the apprentice of the year, who is an aeronautical engineer at BAE Systems near Preston.
Apprenticeships offer a huge amount. They work for the economy, they work for employers and they work for apprentices. In short, apprenticeships deliver. For the economy, apprenticeships improve productivity. For employers, apprenticeships increase morale and retention, not to mention the skills that employers need. They also work for the apprentices themselves and evidence published by the Centre for Economic and Business Research shows that the average higher apprentice increases his or her lifetime earnings by about £150,000, about as much as if he or she had gone to university.
Apprenticeships deliver and that is why over the past two years the number of apprentices starting has increased so sharply. In 2010, the coalition promised 50,000 more apprentices every year. I confirm to the House today that we have already not only delivered on that promise but exceeded it. We have all but doubled the number of apprentices starting each year, with more than 1 million starts under this Government.
I shall give way in a moment.
Apprenticeships deliver and we can now set out a more stretching goal, that is, the vision that on leaving school it will become the new norm to go either into an apprenticeship or to university. Gone are the days when a Prime Minister could set an arbitrary target for how many children should go to university, forcing some down a route that did not suit them and ignoring the rest. Gone are the days of Labour’s forgotten 50%. Gone are the days of youth unemployment rising even in the boom years. Gone are the days of uncontrolled immigration as the only answer to skill shortages, of dumbing down, of worklessness, of welfare and of the race to the bottom. Instead, the Government aspire that all the young people of this great nation should reach their personal best and that they should all succeed and fulfil their potential.
Of course, such a change is an economic imperative, as we cannot afford the drag anchor of the welfare bill in this global race, but there is also a moral imperative to support everyone in reaching their potential—for the many, not the few. How will we do that? Of course, the sharp increase in the quantity of apprentices is important, but alone it is not enough; despite unemployment falling, we still, shockingly, find both youth unemployment and skills shortages together in many towns in Britain. That points to a skills system that for too long has failed. For too long, the Government directed centrally the training that should be provided, at what level and where. The result was too much poor-quality training in skills employers did not need, and not enough high-quality training in skills employers do need.
The lodestars in reforming the apprenticeship system will be rigour and responsiveness: rigour to stretch, challenge and raise the expectations of apprentices and responsiveness to the needs of employers, public or private, large or small. The Richard review, which we published in the autumn, sets out a clear and specific guide to delivering those reforms, and we shall publish our formal response shortly.
What of Labour’s response today? I certainly welcome the Opposition’s general support for apprenticeships. I welcome their specific support for more employer ownership of skills, which has support across the spectrum, from trade unions, employers and the third sector alike. However, I am disappointed by the rather negative and carping tone that we heard from the hon. Member for Blackpool South. I turn to some of his specific points.
Others need to get into the debate.
The hon. Member for Blackpool South referred to an article written by the Leader of the Opposition. I grant that it was an unusual article; it actually set out some policies—on apprenticeships. I read it to find out exactly what was there. The first policy was to introduce a national application system for apprenticeships, rather like UCAS for universities. That is a good idea. It is such a good idea that we have already brought it in and linked it to UCAS. It is called the apprenticeship vacancy service; it is run by the National Apprenticeship Service and it was used by more than 1 million applicants last year—evidently none of them from the Labour party research department.
The hon. Gentleman is clearly wrong. My right hon. Friend is prepared to give way and I congratulate him. He may not know that my constituency has the highest number of adult apprenticeship starts, and overall has one of the highest numbers in the country. I congratulate him and his colleagues on increasing the number of apprenticeships and ensuring quality. Does he share my surprise that the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) does not mention the tripling of apprenticeships that has occurred in his constituency since Labour left power?
My hon. Friend does the House a service by drawing attention to that rather revealing statistic.
I turn to the second policy we discovered in the Labour leader’s article. He said:
“Let’s respond to employers who say they can’t hire young people with the right skills, and put them in charge of how training money is spent.”
That is a good idea, but the Prime Minister launched the employer ownership pilot in November 2011. There are now some 26 of those pilot schemes. Only this morning another one was launched, for digital marketing. The support of the Opposition—a bit late—is very welcome.
Thirdly, let us turn to the idea of apprentices in Whitehall. I agree. In 2010, we found hardly any apprentices in Ministers’ offices. There are now 1,800 across Whitehall. We announced a fast-stream apprentice scheme that will take 500 apprentices—the same number as the graduate fast stream. Other of the Leader of the Opposition’s colleagues mentioned the number of apprentices in my Department. They were wrong; there are 79 apprentices in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and its Executive agencies, hired despite the broader hiring freeze. [Interruption.] Other than apprentices, the Department employs no one at all aged under 19.
Fourthly, we come to the policy on procurement. The Opposition say we should put apprentices into the procurement contracts for High Speed 2. Of course, HS2 has yet to go through the House so its contracts are yet to be signed, but the Department for Transport has already made it clear that it will ensure that any procurement for the construction of HS2 meets our wider Government commitments to deliver apprenticeships and training. In the case of Crossrail, the largest construction project in Europe, the contracts signed by this Government require apprentices. I think we now know where the Opposition got the idea for all these Labour policies—they looked up what we are doing and they are playing catch-up.
I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware how delighted the parliamentary apprentices are to have been invited to meet the Prime Minister tomorrow to celebrate apprenticeship week. There are a number of apprentices, including Daisy Peck in my office, who is the former head girl of Northampton school for boys—it takes girls in the sixth form—and she is thrilled to be invited by our Prime Minister to celebrate apprenticeship week at No. 10 tomorrow morning.
No. The hon. Gentleman has had four—or is it five—goes.
On the motion, we are clear that we support the principle of apprenticeships within procurement, where they deliver value for money, and we are delivering apprenticeships within procurement, but I am sorry to point out that there is a problem with the Opposition motion. First, it requires the Government to put apprenticeship contracts into all public sector contracts. That would mean all local government contracts and all devolved Government contracts, and I am not sure that the hon. Member for Blackpool South or the Opposition intended that. In addition, the motion makes no mention of value for money. For Government Members value for money in procurement is essential. Of course the evidence shows that apprenticeships normally drive up value for money, but the motion would be a rather heavy-handed approach.
I ask the Opposition, as we jointly celebrate apprenticeship week, to accept the reassurances that we have given about the importance of procurement in national contracts, to understand that their motion is technically defective, not to push it to a vote, and instead to support the Government in their drive to increase apprenticeship numbers.
I urge the whole House to get behind the wider reforms that we are putting in place for apprenticeships. Following the Richard review, which was widely welcomed, we are setting out those reform plans so that as well as the welcome increase in quantity, we increase the quality, putting employers at the heart of apprenticeships and making the system more rigorous and more responsive to skills needs. We have published regulations to increase the level to which apprenticeships can be studied, introducing for the first time apprenticeships that can lead to the same exams to qualify as a solicitor, accountant or insurance professional. By putting employers in the driving seat, we are reshaping apprenticeships to fit the modern economy—a highly skilled, highly motivated work force where each and every one can aspire to fulfil their potential. That is what our reforms will do, and I commend apprenticeships to the House.
I will try to summarise my 11-month Business, Innovation and Skills Committee report and its recommendations within that time frame. I welcome this debate in national apprenticeship week. Notwithstanding the political differences that we may have between the parties, it is important that we take the opportunity to demonstrate and recommend to young people the advantages that come from an apprenticeship.
Recent figures show that it is anticipated that there will be about £3.4 billion-worth of additional growth per year in 2022 if we adopt a certain target for apprenticeships. Similarly, apprentices can expect to earn about £150,000 extra during a lifetime. Those are key figures that the House should be highlighting in order to underpin the Government’s drive to get more apprentices.
However, the Government have to recognise that there is also a perception problem. Fewer than one in five 16 to 19-year-olds think that apprenticeships offer the best career option for them, and the great majority still think that GCSEs and university do so. Fewer than one in 10 parents support apprenticeships. They still prefer the higher education route and still think of apprentices as being blue collar workers, whereas in fact the great majority are white collar workers.
Notwithstanding the obvious economic benefit and the drive and support from all parties in the Chamber, there is obviously a problem that has to be addressed in fulfilling the potential that is offered by this career route. With great respect to the Minister, I do not think that he did justice to some of the recommendations made by the Opposition and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee to achieve that. I stress that the Select Committee has a Government majority and all its recommendations were passed unanimously.
The solution lies, first, in not just trying to drive up the number of apprenticeships, but in looking at our education system. The Prime Minister talked yesterday about an alternative career option. If we are to get young people to take it up, we must have some sort of parity of esteem between higher education and the apprenticeship route. The most depressing thing that the Committee heard was when an apprentice in Sheffield told us that he had the option to go to university, but when he told his school he wanted to take an apprenticeship, it ignored him and did not even invite him to its awards ceremony. That is symptomatic of a culture within our schools and education system that must be addressed if we are to change.
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman, and if I have time I will come to that very point.
One of the Select Committee’s recommendations was that the Ofsted assessment criteria should include the number of students that a school puts into vocational and further education. It is only by changing school targets that teachers will change the culture of schools to overcome this discrimination between higher education and the vocational route. Unfortunately, the Government declined to take up that invitation.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) for a very good Select Committee report that highlighted the problems of the careers service. By delegating careers advice to schools, the existing bias within the education system to encourage students to take the higher education route rather than the vocational route is being reinforced. We need careers advisers who are aware of apprenticeships, aware of the benefits of vocational education, and prepared to advise students in schools that that is the best possible route for their particular range of aptitude.
The point that the hon. Gentleman makes about careers advice is absolutely right. Does he agree that one of the Government’s successful initiatives has been the National Careers Service, and there could be a role for that service, working with schools, to ensure that they fulfil the duty that they have been given? All too often the institutional interest of the school and the individual interest of the young person are not the same, and that is why we need some kind of arbitration to make sure that the interests of the child are put first.
I read the recommendation of the hon. Gentleman’s Committee on that, and in the current situation I think it is probably the best option. I await the Government’s response to it with interest.
Work experience is another topic that has been raised. Removing the obligation on schools to have their students involved in work experience removes from those students an experience that potentially will enthuse them to pursue an apprenticeship. In my area, many of the apprentices in the foundries went there as a result of work experience they undertook. Removing this obligation undermines the overall thrust of the policy, which is to get young people into vocational education.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) raised the issue of business involvement. That is another crucial element in developing a strategy that works. I believe that, first, there must be a vocational qualification, and the BTEC, as outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden), should provide that. I support the Government’s employer ownership scheme as I believe that our vocational qualifications must be determined, monitored and assessed by business, in conjunction with the education service. I also believe more group training associations and apprenticeship training associations should be developed so we can reach the smaller small and medium-sized enterprises, which are the hardest to reach and which otherwise would be unable to provide the resources for apprenticeship training.
I am not going to repeat my hon. Friend’s arguments in support of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee recommendations, but I will emphasise that my local authority of Sandwell is pioneering in this area, and has so far obtained 250 apprentices, is playing a brokering role for students with local businesses, and has taken 300 people off the unemployment register by giving them work experience in a pre-apprenticeship scheme.
If local government can do this, why cannot the Government? The half-hearted response of the Government is to be lamented, and I hope we will get something more positive in future.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), who made an excellent speech.
Apprenticeships are working for business and more young people are taking up apprenticeships in Worcestershire than ever before. In that context, I warmly welcome the start of another national apprenticeship week. Like many other MPs, I have employed an apprentice to work with me in my constituency office, and I will be meeting local employers in my constituency this week to discuss how we can strengthen the roll-out of apprenticeships, widen participation by businesses in supporting them, and continue to drive up quality for employers and apprentices alike.
I know that my hon. Friend is a real advocate of apprenticeships. One of the ideas I hope he will push in that forum and with Ministers is to use the mailing of business rates. We already pay for those to go to every business every year. Simply inserting a leaflet setting out the benefits of apprenticeships would provide a real boost, and would serve to open the window for many other businesses and future apprentices.
My hon. Friend comes up with an intriguing, and very creative, suggestion, and I am sure Ministers will respond to it in due course.
Although I welcome the fact that the Opposition have chosen apprenticeships as the topic for this debate, and I particularly welcome their support for the excellent report from the BIS Committee, which I was proud to join shortly after its inquiry into apprenticeships, I am afraid that their motion is very narrow and self-congratulatory and misses most of the important recommendations of that report, as the Committee Chair eloquently explained in his excellent speech.
As a proud member of the all-party group on apprenticeships, I have met a wide range of employers who want to take on apprentices and who value the opportunity to have people earn while they learn. I have also met some enormously impressive young people from all over the country who are undertaking apprenticeships and who recognise the huge opportunity they offer. It is very easy for a debate such as this to be dominated by statistics, and I am sure other Members will introduce plenty of them into the debate, but the overall story is undoubtedly one of strong growth under the coalition Government. A big rise in the number of apprenticeships in Worcester helps to explain the sharp fall in youth unemployment, which today is around 18% lower than it was at the time of the general election, and down more than a quarter since its peak under Labour.
However, I want to focus on quality, not just quantity, and on people, not just numbers. Suffice it to say, I welcome the fact that the numbers keep rising, which is testament to the Government’s commitment on apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are often seen as the first step in a career, but it is important to recognise where they can lead. We should see them not just as a route into the lower end of the jobs market, which they have sometimes been misrepresented as in the past.
When I look at local manufacturers in my constituency, I see that many of the bosses are former apprentices. Both the current and previous managing directors at Worcester Bosch, the biggest private sector employer in Worcester, started out as apprentices. In smaller local engineering firms, one reason why the bosses and owner-managers are so passionate about making today’s apprenticeships work is that they started their careers in old-fashioned apprenticeships.
We should not see apprenticeships as an end in themselves, but as a conduit into learning about work, good careers and wider opportunities. For many young people, staying in school or college until 18 or going to university are not necessarily enticing prospects. Some of the brightest young people can be disengaged from classroom study by the time they reach 16 and many would relish the challenge of being able to learn in the workplace.
In the past, apprenticeships served generations well as a means of entry into work, particularly in the manufacturing sector, but with the number of apprenticeships increasing across the advanced manufacturing, cyber, computer and service industries, I believe that they can serve the current generation of school leavers even better. Many young people are better suited to learning in the workplace, rather than the classroom, and will thrive best given the opportunity to succeed, work hard and learn in a working environment. I am glad that apprenticeships now offer a progression that can take people right up to degree level and provide an alternative route to that valuable level of qualification.
I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister say that apprenticeships should be seen as the “new normal”. In order for that to remain the case in the long term, however, we need to make some changes. We need to get the message through, as the Select Committee Chair has shown strongly, to all those in our education system who provide careers advice that apprenticeships are here to stay. I was shocked to hear from apprentices at BAE Systems that many of them, who had achieved that gold-standard apprenticeship, had been actively discouraged from applying for it by their teachers. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle), who unfortunately is not in the Chamber, has previously given the appalling example of one candidate whose teacher tore up their application for an apprenticeship with that fantastic employer because they did not want to see them “wasted there.” I have seen some of the outstanding facilities available to those apprentices.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. Does he agree that because we have a system in which teachers are judged on their ability to get pupils into higher education, rather than into apprenticeships, we cannot really blame the teachers or the system for doing so? It is the Government who need to change the system. That is not a party political point, because it existed under the previous Government as well.
I agree with that as well. I think there is the opportunity to show businesses the benefits of investing in skills and that that can be achieved through apprenticeships. Some of the strongest recommendations in the Select Committee’s report relate to the need to strengthen the brand of apprenticeships and the focus on them in careers advice. It also points out the need to increase engagement between the National Apprenticeship Service and schools. Disappointingly, the motion makes no mention of those issues at all.
I would go further than the Committee’s report. We need businesses to engage more closely with schools, to put their managers on to the governing bodies of schools at both primary and secondary levels, and to champion the advantages and opportunities of apprenticeships and work-based learning, just as university-educated teachers will always champion the benefits of going to university.
In my constituency, I have been pleased to see Yamazaki Mazak take an active role in supporting the Bishop Perowne Church of England academy, placing its managers on the governing bodies of the school and its primary feeders and proactively engaging with school children in order to advocate the benefits of vocational education. I am glad to see Worcester Bosch playing an active role in inspiring pupils at the Tudor Grange academy and was delighted to hold an apprenticeships and enterprise fair, sponsored by both companies, to bring schools, employers and apprenticeship providers together with young people to talk about apprenticeships in Worcester.
The Select Committee’s report made powerful representations about the need to engage small and medium-sized enterprises in the apprenticeship agenda and pointed out that 80% of apprentices are employed in the SME sector. Again, the motion is silent on this point. In Worcester, a proactive, Conservative-led city council has engaged with this agenda to support SMEs with extra grants so that when they take on apprenticeships they get double the support that is available from the Government. I was delighted that at my most recent business event a number of small companies present had already taken on apprentices and they valued the support they were offered. I have also been very pleased with the consistent support for this agenda from the local media, particularly the Worcester News, which has run the 100 in 100 apprenticeships campaign.
It is of course right that the Government consider public procurement as a way of encouraging apprenticeships, and I was pleased to hear the Minister reiterate their commitment to using it in that way. It is right that the Select Committee drew Ministers’ attention to this important area, as it did on pages 52 and 53 of its 90-page report. However, it is also right that the Government should have regard to the cost that making procurement conditional on apprenticeships might have for the public purse and private enterprise. The report says,
“we concede that some flexibility is required”,
and, with regard to the suggestion of looking for at least one apprenticeship per £1 million awarded,
“we have been told by the TUC that this is current policy in some construction procurement arrangements.”
It is notable that the recommendation on procurement did not form even one of the sub-headings in the conclusions and recommendations of the report.
I passionately support apprenticeships. I welcome the fact that we are celebrating national apprenticeship week and welcome the very important work of the BIS Committee, of which I am proud to be a member.
Like other hon. Members here today, I welcome national apprenticeship week. Last night I was pleased to be able to attend an event organised jointly by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and Semta on apprenticeships in the motor industry, where I met Carolyn Lee and James Doughty, two new apprentices working for Jaguar Land Rover. If anybody ever doubted the value of apprenticeships and what they can do to raise aspirations among young people, they just need to listen to the kind of things they were saying to me.
As chair of the all-party motor group, I have regular discussions with motor manufacturers and others in the motor industry. It is a sector where apprenticeships are taken very seriously and where a great deal is being done. The automotive sector is one of the largest providers of apprenticeships in our country. People in the sector certainly welcome a number of the initiatives that have taken place, but last night they told me something that it is important for us to bear in mind: we must not think that rhetoric about apprenticeships is exactly the same as reality, because they are different. We can support some of the things that are being done and still recognise that.
I am sorry that the Minister did not seek to engage with Labour Members on the issues that they wanted to raise with him. My first point about rhetoric not always matching reality is that people involved in the automotive sector and elsewhere are saying that small and medium-sized firms, in particular, have genuine concerns about how they can engage with the system: how they access apprenticeships, what they mean for them, and whether it is too difficult for them to get involved. The system is not joining up in the way that it should, and it is important that the Government listen to what those in industry are saying. They are not making political points; they are talking about the health of their businesses and the opportunities that should be available to young people.
My second point on the rhetoric is that it is okay for the Government to talk about the expansion in the number of apprenticeships that has occurred over the past few years, but often those apprenticeships are not tackling the issue of youth unemployment, even in terms of numbers. In the last academic year, the number of 16 to 18-year-old apprentices fell in four of England’s nine regions, including my own, the west midlands. Youth unemployment has sky-rocketed in my constituency; 1,260 young people are currently without a job and long-term youth unemployment has more than doubled. If we overlay that with access to apprenticeships, it does not make good reading. The Prince’s Trust has highlighted the fact that in some cases just 14% of apprenticeships were obtained by unemployed young people.
There are examples of good practice. I welcome the work of Birmingham city council. Last year it established a commission on youth unemployment, which produced pretty staggering and disturbing results: we are one of the youngest cities in Europe but we have 15,000 unemployed young people, 3,000 of whom have been unemployed for more than a year. The council and its partners set up a youth jobs fund to target funding on tackling long-term youth unemployment. There are issues involved in targeting funding: should it be targeted on young people, on the areas in which they live or on the areas in which employers operate, which form the catchment area for the young people? I have written to the council and I hope soon to receive replies to my questions.
We need more initiatives that bridge the gap between boosting apprenticeships and ensuring that they tackle long-term youth unemployment, and in that context I wholly endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) on behalf of the Select Committee. If we are to join up the system it is vital that our education system links with the necessary skills training and opportunities for young people.
The long-held perception in this country that the academic route is superior to the vocational route must end. I hope that Ministers will think a little about the messages they send young people. The rhetoric of the Secretary of State for Education over the past few years has pointed young people in a direction that has not encouraged them to believe that apprenticeships enjoy parity of esteem, whereas we must ensure not only that opportunities are available but that young people feel they can contribute the skills necessary if our country is going to be as competitive as it should be in future.
The average unemployed person, especially young people who are seriously looking for employment, will not give a jot who should claim credit for rejuvenating apprenticeships. All parties should pat themselves on the back for trying to rejuvenate apprenticeships, which had almost disappeared. Wherever credit should lie, the fact that this initiative is being developed at pace is welcome.
Where did we go wrong? Over the past 20 or 30 years we failed to deal with huge structural issues in the labour market. Immigration played some part, especially in communities with rising young populations, but many businesses tell me they would have gone bust without immigrants, particularly over the past 10 years. Structural change to the labour market is important in a place such as Bradford. In the good years, 1998 to 2008, we lost 40%—15,000—of our manufacturing jobs. Hon. Members need only think what opportunities could have been offered for apprenticeships.
We are all aware of the tale of educational under-attainment from which we have suffered for many years. I worked in a university for about 20 years and always felt that the 50% target was absurd. It was not matched by an equivalent increase in funding, and the unit cost dropped. It became too easy to go to university, and when I started work in the 1980s there was no one in the class who did not want to be there, but by the time I left many young people were there simply because they did not know where else to be—it was a deferred decision. The most difficult thing I faced in dealing with admissions in the summer was my awareness of the huge attrition rate in the autumn as students drifted into other things and did not stay on the course. Those changes required fundamental changes to be made to the apprenticeships programme and they are now being made.
The briefing of the Association of Colleges to the Education Committee’s inquiry into careers guidance, which has been referred to by other Members, contained the statistic that
“only 7% of pupils are able to name apprenticeships as a post-GCSE qualification.”
That is simply not good enough. The report proposes changes.
The proportion of students who stayed on to the sixth form and went on to university became a means of comparing secondary schools. Bradford only has sixth forms; there are no sixth-form colleges. Schools wanted to have a very high proportion of young people who stayed on into the sixth form and went on to university and were in no mood to advise them to go down another route.
Ralf Dahrendorf’s book on life chances, which was published in the 1970s, had a profound impact on my views. It spoke of the need to create alternatives and possibilities for young people so that they could lead a fulfilled life. Apprenticeships offer something other than the route that young people are told is the only route that they should pursue. As we have said many times before, we reached the position where somebody who did not go to university was regarded as a failure. We cannot have that culture and it desperately needs to change.
There are many things that we need to do. The expansion of apprenticeship places has happened at such a pace that problems with quality are inevitable. That was identified by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. However, we are on a journey and are not there yet.
Clear evidence has been produced by organisations such as the Prince’s Trust of inequality in the apprenticeship places that are offered. Young people are disproportionately disadvantaged, as has been mentioned, as are those from black and minority ethnic communities. That is shown clearly in the statistics.
The growth of apprenticeships has been very well received in Bradford. I have one of the most deprived constituencies with one of the highest levels of youth unemployment. However, we are managing to get more than 1,000 people in my constituency and 5,000 people across the Bradford district into apprenticeships each year. That is extremely good news.
We are not there by a long way, but we are heading in the right direction—a direction that has been desperately needed for a long time.
In contributing to this debate, I think back to 2008 when I launched national apprenticeship week as Minister for Skills. I recall debates in the Department at that time about why anything that we said about higher education would run right across the national newspapers and broadcasters, whereas it was very hard to get journalists to write even a small story about the importance of apprenticeships. That is largely because people in that sector, as is now the case with many politicians, have not experienced apprenticeships themselves. It has also been the case that many middle-class people in this country have not considered apprenticeships to be a preferred option for their children. For that reason, apprenticeships have languished behind.
I therefore welcome the cross-party nature of at least part of this debate, despite its being an Opposition day debate. I congratulate the Government on continuing to hold national apprenticeship week and on maintaining the National Apprenticeship Service, which I launched. It is important that the minimum length for an apprenticeship has been set at a year. All that progress is welcome.
It is important to introduce some fundamentals to this debate—otherwise, many young people searching for apprenticeships in our country might think that we have gone mad, and parents who are concerned about apprenticeships might feel that we are out of touch. At the heart of our system is the understanding that we must be there not only for our own children but for others. In a sense, we act in loco parentis, and navigating young people through a journey into work is important and necessary. For so many—indeed most—young people, going on such a journey alongside studying is essential.
We must remember that teachers spend time working and studying, just as I did when I was a young barrister. Across many job areas, the apprenticeship—an idea as old as the human being—is necessary. Why do we still have a fundamental problem? Largely, it goes back to the central debates of our times: what is growth; what is the industrial policy in this country; and where are our jobs to come from? I think we have some problems with those issues.
We should be concerned that when we talk about apprenticeships, a significant bulk of what we mean are level 2 apprenticeships—GSCE level. If we are serious about giving people the necessary life chances, and replicating what we see in countries such as Germany, Sweden and elsewhere, we need to do considerably better and have more apprenticeships at level 3 and beyond. Are we in this House content that when we look at growth over the past years, 100,000 of the new apprenticeships are in administration, more than 60,000 are in retail and fewer than one sixth are in engineering and construction? What does that say about the underlying problems in our economy? Many of those listening to this debate want to know that when we talk about apprenticeships, we are serious about what they are.
Given that 55% of young black men in this country are languishing as unemployed, we should be hugely concerned about the ethnic minority profile within apprenticeships and—when people do get apprenticeships —about where they tend to be. Given levels of unemployment among young people, we should be concerned that so much of the growth—75%—is among those older than 25. All parties can be guilty of playing politics, but I was Skills Minister with responsibility for Train to Gain, Unionlearn and Skilling up, and 70% of these new apprenticeships are taken by those who were already employed, and that is not progress. Those people already had jobs and—let us be serious—rebadging those jobs as apprenticeships is not actually progress. It is of huge concern that we are now using the term “apprenticeship”, when we are talking about the Train to Gain programme.
My right hon. Friend is making a superb speech and indicating that early decisions made by young people and supported by their parents and teachers are not going in the right direction for our economy. Is one main problem the lack of decent advice that young people receive?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and we will not sort out that issue unless we get to grips with a serious problem in careers, information, advice and guidance. We struggled with that in government; we had the Connexions service but we got rid of it. I think it worked in certain parts of the country but not in others, and it was certainly good for more vulnerable young people. The situation now is that many schools with responsibility in that area are totally out of touch with the sectors into which we need young people to go if we are to be serious about apprenticeships.
The indication of decline is also significant. When Labour left office, my Department was spending about £2,400 in direct payments for each apprenticeship start.
That figure has now fallen to £1,600, and is part of the dressing up of what constitutes an apprenticeship.
I hope we will begin to get serious about what an apprenticeship is, and recognise that young people are concerned that they will just go round and round in circles and not end up with a proper job. A proper job is where we need to get to, and we should keep a close eye on both completion rates and success rates. If we go back in time, the legacy of a former Government was an apprenticeship that one did not finish, and one did not get a job at the end of it.
One great positive that we can take out of the debate so far is that many Members are very positive about apprenticeships. I accept that there will be disagreements, but what we can all take away from it is that we want apprenticeships to succeed and to work.
In my constituency in the past year, 1,070 apprenticeship places have been created—a vast 88% increase from 2010. That is ahead of the national average by 86%, but unfortunately it lags slightly behind the west midlands average of 91%. We should feel a great sense of pride at what has been achieved and we can do more. Apprenticeships have a vital role to play in driving down unemployment and getting young people into work.
In South Staffordshire, we are blessed not to have an exceptionally high rate of unemployment, but that is down to the fact that we are proactive in driving down unemployment. Since 2010, South Staffordshire district council has been running job clubs right across the constituency. South Staffordshire does not have a jobcentre and it is often difficult for people to access their services, so we have been running job clubs in Wombourne, Kinver, Codsall, Bilbrook, Great Wyrley and many other villages right across my constituency to help people both young and old to access employment. They are not just about guiding and encouraging people, telling them how to make their CVs better and giving them the confidence to go out and get a job; they bring employers to them. It is with great pride that, working with my district council, we will have a jobs fair at Perton civic centre on 26 April. Already, many major local employers have committed to attend, bringing jobs and employment opportunities to all in South Staffordshire. I hope it will be a great success, and I know that many Opposition Members have been doing similar things in their own constituencies.
Will the hon. Gentleman give some recognition to the efforts in north Staffordshire, where, to encourage more apprentices, on Thursday evening KMF Engineering from Newcastle-under-Lyme is hosting its young engineer of the year awards at the Britannia stadium in Stoke-on-Trent? The following day, with the national apprenticeship scheme, Newcastle borough council and Newcastle-under-Lyme college, we are launching the latest 100 in 100 campaign to recruit apprentices to local businesses.
My fellow Staffordshire MP demonstrates how enthusiastic Staffordshire MPs are to encourage apprenticeships and bring employment to our constituencies regardless of our political colour. All such schemes make a genuine difference.
We have talked about public procurement. One of the biggest creators of apprenticeships in South Staffordshire is G4S, which has recently won the bid to run Oakwood prison near the village of Featherstone. As part of its winning bid, 190 offender management apprenticeship places have been created. That should be welcomed. The private sector is being highly proactive in looking at how we get more employment, more apprenticeships and how we start to give young people and older people the opportunity to get into work.
As I am sure other Members have found, far too often when we speak to local schools or colleges, either here in Parliament or in our constituencies, and ask them, “Who wants to go to university?” 90% or 95% of hands go up, but if we ask them, “Who wants to get an apprenticeship?” very few people put up their hand. We have to ensure that people understand that apprenticeships are as good, if not better than going to university.
The Engineering Employers Federation recently raised the depressing statistic that fewer than 50% of schoolteachers encourage people to go into manufacturing and engineering, and almost one quarter positively discourage them. Apprenticeships have an incredibly important role to play in encouraging and inspiring young people to enter the manufacturing sector, like I did when I left university in 1997. We need to encourage more people to enter manufacturing and engineering, not just when they leave university, but when they are at school or finishing college. That is the opportunity.
People often see an apprenticeship as second rate. I was recently looking at job adverts—not for me, I hope—and perusing the internet. Jaguar Land Rover, which is spending £500 million in my constituency building a new engine plant, will be employing more than 1,400 people and apprentices of different ages. It will be an enormous boost not just to South Staffordshire, but to the whole west midlands. I was looking at its higher apprenticeships programme and the qualifications needed: a minimum of five GCSEs at grade C or above, including in maths, English and a core science subject; an A-level at grade C or above in a mathematical subject; an A-level at grade C or above in a science, technology or an engineering-related subject.
I am afraid that most people in the Chamber would probably be precluded from applying. These are not second-rate jobs and apprenticeships are not second-rate careers; they are our future. It is all about encouraging employment in engineering and manufacturing. The Government have made massive strides, not just in South Staffordshire, but in the west midlands, where the number of apprenticeships has increased by 91%. I encourage the Minister to keep driving forward towards more advanced apprenticeships, because it will make the country grow and prosper.
Order. Eleven right hon. and hon. Members are still seeking to catch my eye. The Front-Bench winding-up speeches must begin at, or very close to, 6.40. To accommodate remaining colleagues, I am reducing the time limit on Back-Bench speeches, with immediate effect, to five minutes, though if Members can be briefer, that would help one and all.
I was going to thank the last Labour Government for initiating national apprenticeship week, but I have now learned that more specifically I need to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who was the Minister who brought in this wonderful celebration of apprentices, businesses and our economy. I am pleased to say that it is being celebrated in my constituency, culminating in North Tyneside’s showcase event on Saturday, “Get up and Go”, where young people, parents and carers can learn about local apprenticeship opportunities and what it is like to earn and learn across a spectrum of jobs.
This year, the borough’s apprentice employer of the year—for businesses employing more than 250 people—was insurethebox, a company based at Quorum business park at Longbenton in my constituency. It is a relatively new company that now employs 290 people from across the whole region. Its staff proactively enter schools and colleges in the area, teaching students about the world of work and offering work experience, with the aim of increasing the company’s apprenticeship work force to achieve a ratio of 1:10. Since 2011, the company has taken on 31 apprentices between the ages of 16 and 24, six of whom are now fully qualified. Once they are recruited by insurethebox, which accounts for two thirds of the UK telematics market, the apprentices get the opportunity to develop their careers, moving into areas such as human resources, claims handling and underwriting. I was happy to learn that this modern, forward-looking company wants to increase its apprenticeships even further as part of its recruitment drive.
As part of national apprenticeship week, I visited Fabricon Offshore Services, which is another company based at the Quorum business park. The company is a leading provider of brownfield engineering, procurement, construction and project management services to the offshore oil and gas industry, through a range of technical services and solutions. I was there to shadow one of the six first-year engineering apprentices, 18-year-old Darius Bahrami from Sunderland. Darius had studied A-levels at school, but unlike many of his friends he had decided to take up an engineering apprenticeship, as opposed to going to university. He told me that a number of his friends wished that they, too, had taken up an apprenticeship, as opposed to following a university career. Apart from experiencing how software is used in engineering, I attended a “Lesson learnt” presentation with Darius and other first-year apprentices, which was given by one of Fabricon’s now qualified apprentices, Carl Blewitt, who explained the process of going from being an apprentice to becoming a junior mechanical engineer. He is now at university. I saw in him a very good role model for his first-year colleagues.
Those apprentices are fortunate to be working at a fast-growing company such as Fabricon. They enjoy the best training possible and are up to scratch. As well as gaining sought-after experience, they receive HNC qualifications. However, Fabricon, like other companies in the industry, is fighting to fill a skills gap. One third of its staff are over 55. That is because businesses in the oil and gas industry cut back on the number of trainees and apprentices they took on in the ’80s and ’90s. Given the rapidly diminishing window to recruit people quickly enough to replace the ageing work force while still “downloading” skills and experience from people currently in post, companies such as Fabricon are battling. Because of the skills gap and its commitment to skills and development, Fabricon has launched its own dedicated offshore services academy, which is providing full training for apprentices and working with the universities in the area.
Another thing I would like to highlight is the fact that the Government now require those over 24 to apply for a 24+ advanced learning loan, which my local TyneMet college has said will be a barrier to people becoming mature apprentices. I have highlighted the fact that there are two fantastic things happening in North Tyneside—
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate, which has been characterised by positive and constructive contributions from all parts of the House. That shows just how much support there is for more and better apprenticeships.
I am proud to represent a constituency with a strong manufacturing base and a strong and vibrant logistics industry. Apprenticeships have always been a feature of these industries. When I meet the wealth creators in Thurrock, without exception they are people who have learned their skills in the workplace. That fact needs to be understood. For many people, choosing an apprenticeship will be the most effective route to their personal advancement. I would like to highlight some successful local programmes and, in doing so, highlight some areas where the Government could do more to encourage better apprenticeships.
The port of Tilbury has always offered a number of apprenticeships each year, placing a high emphasis on skills and even establishing its own logistics academy to provide bespoke training that suits its business. This year the port has developed a new apprenticeship in health and safety, which is central to its business, as ports are hazardous places. The port has advised me, however, that the apprenticeship framework can often prove inflexible for the kind of training that it wishes to offer. I suggest to the Minister that we need to ensure that the framework focuses on equipping workers with the intended skill, rather than just ticking boxes.
In addition to the established industries, Thurrock also has an emerging centre of excellence in the creative industries. My hon. Friend the Minister saw this for himself only last week, when he visited the new Backstage Centre, which will provide a great deal of training through putting on live musical and theatrical events. The creative industries are a growing sector, but it is also a sector that is characterised by self-employment and small and medium-sized enterprises. That is another area in which the Government really need to do more work. It can be daunting for a sole trader to take on the onus and responsibility of managing an apprentice, but the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural has provided a collective framework to enable a number of SMEs and sole traders to come together and offer training to young people. There is a need to pass on those skills to other people if we are going to make the most of that growing industry, in which Britain leads the world.
I want to highlight the example of a particular individual who is currently going through his apprenticeship with the Royal Opera House. Not all Members will know this, but the Royal Opera House’s production park is in my constituency of Thurrock. Everything that those Members who enjoy going to the opera see on stage has been made in Thurrock—and very proud of that we are, too.
The Royal Opera House’s current apprentice is a young man named Jamie Ashwell. He decided to take up the offer of an apprenticeship rather than doing a stage management degree at university. For Jamie, the choice was simple. He is working for a world-leading arts organisation, getting experience of real projects and working with leading practitioners in the industry—and he is being paid, to boot. I envisage that, in the future, some of the strongest apprenticeship places will be as hotly contested as some of our most prestigious university places.
The apprenticeship route also suits the Royal Opera House. It needs people with real practical skills in the type of work that it does. People with arts degrees who apply for jobs in its costume or make-up departments, for example, do not necessarily have the required technical skills. By offering apprenticeships, the Royal Opera House can train people up in areas such as bespoke tailoring and wig-making—true crafts that are not available to those studying for degrees.
I have had the privilege of visiting the set-up at Thurrock, but there was one thing that I really missed. Under the former future jobs fund, the Royal Opera House created a programme that went wider than the apprenticeships as a way of bringing in young people to learn the skills that the hon. Lady is describing. It had a wonderful group of young people studying there as a result of that scheme but, sadly, it is no longer available to young people who would like to learn about working at the Royal Opera House.
The hon. Lady makes a good point, but the Royal Opera House continues to engage in a really big outreach programme involving local schools. She makes an important point, however, because one of the ways of attracting young people and demonstrating the opportunities afforded by apprenticeships is to open their eyes. It has been pointed out that schools often place an emphasis on universities, but we really need to ensure that they take advantage of every opportunity to open young people’s eyes to what is on offer.
I encourage the Minister to look at what more can be done to support the efforts of smaller firms and, in particular, sole traders to offer apprenticeships. We need to unlock and encourage the entrepreneurism in those growing industries, and to look at the apprenticeship framework, but I think that all Members on both sides of the House can congratulate themselves on the renewed emphasis that we have placed on this important way of providing our young people with the skills that they need to make the best of themselves.
As we have heard today from Members on both sides of the House, the debate is extremely welcome in what is currently a tough economic climate, especially for young people. I shall refer not only to this apprenticeship week but to the apprenticeship week that we shall celebrate in Scotland in May, so I shall get two bites at the cherry.
I served a formal indentured apprenticeship. That meant that I was tied to my employer for the first five years of my working life, for which I received an extra £5 a week. I am therefore well aware of the value of an apprenticeship, and I believe that it means more than just learning a skill or trade. Like many other Members, I have been working with companies in the constituency, encouraging them to consider taking on more apprentices and starting apprenticeship programmes themselves. It has been successful to a degree, and it is one of the reasons why we in Inverclyde have so far escaped the worst ravages of youth unemployment. That, however, is not the case in Scotland overall or, as we have heard, in the United Kingdom as a whole, where youth unemployment has never been higher. The country’s youth continue to bear the brunt of the lack of jobs in the UK. We desperately need to get our young people into training and apprenticeships. They must be given every possible opportunity to improve and hone the skills that they require in order to obtain jobs in the future.
As we have heard, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, in a report published in the autumn of 2012, gave its backing to public procurement to boost apprenticeships. That would create tens of thousands of jobs, and would help to alleviate some of the vast youth unemployment that is currently rife throughout the UK. I implemented a procurement policy in 2007, when I was leader of my council in Inverclyde, and that may be where the Government got the idea. When we were renewing our school estates, we saw the need not just to have new schools but to secure jobs and apprenticeships for the pupils, and we wrote that into our terms and conditions. It was very successful, which is one of the other reasons why youth unemployment is being kept low in Inverclyde. It fell then by over 20%. We asked firms not only to take on apprentices, but to commit themselves to a percentage of local labour.
In the private sector, I have been supporting technology, most recently the 4G network. This week our local mobile phone company, Everything Everywhere, announced the launch of 13 modern apprenticeships. It is committed to continuing to employ young people, and to introducing an apprenticeship programme that we hope will run for many years and give them long-term jobs.
Another initiative that has been extremely successful in Inverclyde is our award-winning Recruit programme. As we have heard from many Members today, schools need more than just brief career advice from industry. We brought schools and industry together, and young people gave up their time to participate in what was probably the longest interview that they would ever have. The initiative has been running for more than five years and has been extremely successful, putting tens of young people into jobs and giving them the best possible start in life. It has been replicated by some neighbouring authorities, and has been seen across Scotland as a trail blazer.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is entirely apt that you are in the Chair, given your interest in this issue.
In some sectors, apprenticeships are not a new development, but have been around for a long time. For many years plumbers, construction workers and electricians have undertaken apprenticeships, whether centrally led or employer-led. Their industries have long acknowledged that learning on the job, building up knowledge and skills, gaining qualifications and earning money, all at the same time, is valuable and appealing to many young people.
Other sectors have been much slower to cotton on. Some remain entirely in the dark. It has been argued that companies are not taking on trainees because of the difficulty of offering places when there is no set qualification to work towards, but that has not actually been the case. I checked the National Apprenticeship Service website today. The “types of apprenticeships” are broken down into 10 categories covering everything from agriculture to the arts and from leisure to law. There are now hundreds, if not thousands, of different apprenticeships, which rather prompts the question to the companies “What is missing?”
I did find “Building Energy Management Systems”. Let me go off at a tangent for a moment in order to demonstrate that it is not just up to the Government to tackle this problem.
I recently met Scottish entrepreneur Sir William Haughey at an event in my constituency. He was wearing a gold “H” lapel pin, and I presumed, correctly, that that was not just because it was one of his initials, but because it related to his Youth with Hope scheme, which I am happy to support today by wearing a similar pin. Sir William is known for his straightforward ways; in his words, “2.9 million publicly listed companies. 1.3 million unemployed youths. You do the maths.” He seeks to motivate and inspire organisations of all capacities to play their part in addressing the needs and aspirations of the young. One flagship idea that he has launched is that of “green champions”, whereby young people are employed by large companies to promote sustainable building management, and energy and resource efficiency practices. Given that 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions are down to the way in which our buildings are lit, heated and run, it is easy to see how the green champions could soon pay their own way. In 2009, the audit of Government buildings—264 of them—found that they had an average F rating, with only two Departments managing a rating of D or above. So I hope I can tell the Youth with Hope team to expect a call from the Minister.
In a lot of industries, including competitive ones such as public relations, advertising, marketing and third sector fundraising, young people have been encouraged to work with companies to gain experience—it is just that they have expected the youngster to work for free. Indeed, many in this Chamber have been guilty of offering similar places—the opportunity to gain experience in a competitive field, with the incentive being a possible job at the end of it—and some possibly still do that. I am not claiming to be whiter than white; I offered a couple of short unpaid internships in my first year in the House. I was uneasy with that and I quickly moved to using the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme and the New Deal of the Mind’s parliamentary academy.
One of my apprentices, Alice Hannam, has given me a quote that states the benefits far better than I can:
“Being an apprentice has completely transformed me. It has given me a real boost in confidence. I have felt empowered to take on challenges which I would not have thought possible—such as a degree and securing a job in Parliament.
I really cannot stress enough how great it has been to receive on the job training whilst being paid to do a job I enjoy and receive a qualification at the end of it.”
May I finish by urging all hon. Members, both those in the Chamber, and those who are not here, to find out about these schemes, which give opportunities to people who, because of their background, would not normally be able to take up unpaid positions? I urge hon. Members to promote such schemes, not only in their own constituencies, but much closer to home. Until we put our own house in order, it is far more difficult to urge others to do the same.
We should see apprenticeships as one of the hallmarks of a good society. It is all well and good—probably in a stereotypical fashion—to consider apprenticeships to be the domain of blue-collar families. It is true that decades ago securing a good apprenticeship with good employment prospects was the pinnacle of achievement for many working-class families. De-industrialisation changed the dynamic, as did the rise in the number of students from working-class families attending university, but the situation is changing again. Where we used to describe young people from working-class families and communities as “blue collar”, admittedly using an American political affectation, we should now see them not as blue collar workers but as blue scholar workers from blue scholar families. They understand the need to learn constantly, to innovate and to change in order to keep themselves, their families, their communities, and our country and its economy among the world’s leaders. If we do not seek to provide opportunities for these young people, their communities and their families—families like my own—we will fail them, our economy and the nation.
When we talk about rebalancing our economy, we must acknowledge the national need for successful apprenticeships. We do not simply need a series of apprenticeship schemes; we need an apprenticeship culture, which should be embedded among our public and private sectors, and we should be able to interchange between the two. Looking to the future, we have to recognise that planning for economic growth and planning for economic success is not the same as having a planned economy. The energy sector will command billions of pounds of public money over a very long period, and it is only right that private companies in that sector and others like it, which are in receipt of public investment, should reciprocate with effective apprenticeship programmes.
In terms of effective corporate social responsibility, there are few better ways of leaving a lasting legacy, contributing towards the betterment of society and securing a loyal, committed and productive work force than by investing in continuous personal development. Apprenticeships are potentially the best way in which any company in any sector can do that. If the Government are as committed in practice as they claim to be in their rhetoric, surely they will demand that those undertaking large public contracts should have apprenticeship places for younger people written into those contracts. I urge this Government to do that, as I would the next Labour Government.
This issue is of particular importance to my constituency, which is home to the Sellafield nuclear facility, where £1.6 billion of public money is spent each year. The site is publicly owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and is operated privately by Nuclear Management Partners, the parent company of Sellafield Ltd. Sellafield Ltd takes on an average of 70 apprentices a year, one of the highest intakes in the country, and 18% of its engineering apprentices are young women compared with a national average of about 3%. Although that is nowhere near enough, credit should be given where it is due and I want to commend Sellafield Ltd on that achievement.
I mentioned Nuclear Management Partners, which holds one of the most important and lucrative public sector contracts in the UK and is currently in the throes of a contract renegotiation with the NDA. The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee has made a withering assessment of the fees earned from the public purse by NMP, which were £54 million in the last year alone. She points out:
“Public money to the tune of £1.6 billion is being spent at Sellafield each year. This is an area of considerable deprivation with high unemployment. We are looking for there to be clearer ambition that spending on this huge scale contributes to creating jobs and supports sustainable growth in the region and the UK.”
That is an accurate and succinct analysis of what needs to be done. Apprenticeships, job creation and significant capital investments are all part of the contribution identified by the Public Accounts Committee as being necessary from NMP. On the day the Government admit that they do not have the money they need to build the schools they have promised, it requires only a fairly simple exercise in joining the dots for NMP to understand one of the principal areas where its new contribution must be made.
I hope that Ministers, with and through the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and as part of the ongoing contractual negotiation, will help to deliver a better, more constructive and equitable settlement for my community, for this country and for the taxpayer.
I have really enjoyed the debate, which has been constructive on both sides of the House. The challenge with such debates is always the shortage of time and, like many other Members, I could talk about apprenticeships for a long time. I shall keep my speech brief, however.
For me, this subject is all about jobs. I was planning an apprenticeship initiative well before I was elected and I am pleased that I was elected as it meant that I could implement it. I was one of the first Members to do a 100 apprenticeship in 100 days campaign and in Eastbourne we achieved 181 apprenticeships, which was superb for the town. That momentum continued strongly and, according to the latest figures, since the general election Eastbourne has recruited more than 2,100 new apprentices, more than any other town across the whole of the south-east and more than the constituencies in Brighton. It works.
A lot of that success is down to the partnership working between local businesses, training organisations and Sussex Downs college and to the focus on making apprenticeships work. That goes back to the jobs agenda. In Eastbourne, we are running at a conversion rate of about 90%, which is stunning. That means that 90% of people involved are in full-time work after their apprenticeships.
Irrespective of the party political disagreements, I think that Members are, broadly speaking, united in recognising modern apprenticeships. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who, along with the Labour Government, began to promote apprenticeships. I hope he agrees that we have carried that work on.
Let me flag up three issues that I urge the Government to consider closely, as we have the Minister here. We have talked about schools and I am sure he knows that unless there is a clear rationale for schools to tick a box to show that they are doing something, they will not do it. I work very closely with the secondary schools in Eastbourne, which are very pro-apprenticeships, but they say, bluntly, “Stephen, there is not a lot of point in our selling apprenticeships because we don’t get any bonus for getting 100 apprenticeships.” I urge the Minister to discuss that with the Secretary of State for Education; let us do some creative thinking.
The second issue is quality, particularly when expansion is so rapid, and everybody recognises that we must keep an eye on that. I ask the Minister to keep focusing on quality. In seven or eight years, if we keep up our commitment to apprenticeships, they will have the same gravitas as apprenticeships in Germany. We should not forget, however, that some young people do not have the most academic education or background, and we do not want to set the lower rung for apprenticeships so high that they cannot get on to it. We must keep a close eye on that.
The subsidy for small and medium-sized enterprises is a strong idea, and within nine months of the general election I was urging it on the Business Secretary. I am delighted that after consideration, the Government moved down that road. I think it involves 40,000 SMEs a year. Despite the challenges in the economic envelope, I urge the Government to keep expanding the scheme over the next few years. Many SMEs have taken on apprentices—about 10%—and if more can do so it would be utterly transformational.
Today I had the honour and privilege of spending a couple of hours with an amazing group of young people—some of the apprentices from MBDA, an advanced manufacturing company in my constituency. They are sitting in the Public Gallery listening to our debate.
Anyone visiting the apprentices at Lostock is blown away by their quality and competence, as well as by MBDA’s commitment to them, led by Bernie Waldron, the managing director of manufacturing, and Gareth Humphreys, the human resources adviser on education, both of whom started as apprentices at the company. MBDA does not just teach apprentices skills for the workplace, but concentrates on growing the whole person. Personal development is just as important as formal qualifications.
The young people are entered into competitions such as World Skills. The view that young people are diamonds in the rough that just need polishing shines through everything they do. They are currently taking part in the second year of the Brathay challenge; the aim of the regional stage is to raise the profile of apprenticeships and complete a community project. I wish all the competitors well, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that the apprentices from Lostock will be victorious, although I should like to persuade the organisers to change the final event to one of skill, not just strength, which militates against companies that ensure they have mixed-gender teams.
MBDA has 62 apprentices: 35 young women and 28 young men. It is a great achievement for an engineering company. MBDA runs a four-year programme, and the apprentices complete ONC, HNC, HND and NVQ level 4. Business apprentices complete a business management degree, NVQ 4 and the City and Guilds senior award. It is a fantastic programme, growing the next generation of employees.
MBDA apprentices go into schools to promote apprenticeships in engineering. It is a bit of a shock to pupils when beautifully turned-out young women tell them that they are engineers, but sadly, many schools still see apprenticeships as a choice for their less able students, not for their high flyers.
Jade told me about her experience. Following a visit to her college from MBDA apprentices, she decided to apply for an apprenticeship. Her electronics tutor supported her, but he was the only one. Other tutors said: “What are you doing an apprenticeship for when you could be going to university?”, “You’re too clever to do an apprenticeship”, and “You show too much potential. You need to go to university if you want to progress in a career.”
Some of those people changed their minds, but recently a teacher told a family friend of Jade’s:
“I always thought Jade would do better, would have gone to university and achieved good grades.”
Hurtfully, the teacher went on to say that they always knew that Jade would just float along in something easy and stick to what she knew, although she had the potential to do so much more.
As Jade says, her apprenticeship is far from easy:
“I am currently studying for my HNC, working three and a half days a week, training two nights for my rugby team.”
I forgot to say that she is in the England student team and plays at the weekend. She says that she is
“finding time for my friends and boyfriend. It takes a lot of hard work and I have to make sacrifices but the rewards all come at the end.”
Jade’s view is shared by Beth Sherbourne who recently won the higher apprentice of the year award. Beth said:
“Instead of a £40,000 debt I’ve got a first class honours degree, four years work experience, a well paid job and a Mini Cooper.”
The apprentices at MBDA show what can be achieved by young people. We need to do far more to encourage young people to undertake apprenticeships. Today I asked them if they had any regrets about going for an apprenticeship. Unanimously they said that they had no regrets at all.
We all support apprenticeships and think they are a good idea, and we all congratulate the young people and the companies involved.
I have some questions about the motion. First, because there is so much support for apprenticeships, will the Opposition withdraw it so that we do not need to vote on it? Secondly, if there is to be a vote, will the Minister confirm its legality? As I understand the motion—I am not a legal expert—it commits not only the Government, but local authorities and others using public money to put the requirement to offer apprenticeships into contracts, and I am not sure whether we are allowed to do that. Will the Minister clarify whether that is a legal issue that we need to be concerned about before we vote? I am happy to support the trend of the motion but I would not like to vote for something that cannot be delivered for legal reasons. I am sure the Minister can take advice before he winds up and clarify whether we are able to commit local authorities, for example, to the requirement in the motion. I also question whether we would fall foul of value for money contracts by insisting on companies meeting the requirement. I would like clearance on that before I vote.
It is great that we have apprenticeships in progress. We already do what the motion calls for, apart from committing other authorities to the requirement to offer apprenticeship opportunities. The major companies that we deal with already do so and I support that, but I would like clarity from the Minister that we would be voting on a motion that could legally be implemented.
I support the motion and thank the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) for bringing it before the House. The House always excels when it debates a subject on which everyone agrees, and here we have a subject matter on which everyone can agree.
Apprenticeships are essential to give young people a start. In my constituency, many businesses have offered apprenticeships, whether in Bombardier Aerospace, Huddleston Engineering or even through the local technical college. As this is a devolved matter, in Northern Ireland £8 million has been allocated to Steps to Work and £5.8 million to a return to work programme. These are just two examples of good schemes that deliver.
On Monday I had the opportunity to visit the jobcentre in my constituency and I did so in order to hear what it was doing and to hear about the programmes it offers and the success it has achieved. It bases its success on job outcomes. It has a clear target which it aims to achieve. Whether through Steps to Work or Pathways to Work, young people are getting jobs, and that is important. Like other Members in their constituencies, we have issued challenges to businesses in our communities to take young people on. In my constituency, there is an opportunity for everyone in pharmaceuticals, food processing, light engineering and agri-food, which is a growth industry. Businesses and companies must step up to the bar and be prepared to take people on.
I hope that when the Minister replies he will give some indication of the incentives that the Government can offer businesses to encourage them to offer apprenticeships. If they do so, the young men and women of tomorrow can have jobs. Like other Members, I took on a young man as an apprentice in my office here. After he had spent three years on a course, I offered him a job because of the qualifications that he obviously had, but also because he had the ability and an interest in it, and he needed that opportunity.
The Prince’s Trust is one of the great organisations that we all know and love, and we all recognise the good work it does. The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) spoke some time ago about depression among young people. Among those who are not in work, 70% are depressed, and of those who are in work, 50% are depressed. It is a big problem that has not been touched on, but perhaps we can have an indication of what can be done about it.
In my constituency, 750 young people of 24 and under are unemployed. They need the opportunity offered by apprenticeships. The big employers are in agri-food, tourism, engineering and pharmaceuticals. If we can encourage each business to take someone on, that would help. We need to increase basic skill levels in literacy, numeracy and mechanics to help people fill in the forms to get a job. As parliamentarians we have a responsibility to help young people who are struggling. If we can deliver a vibrant and rigorous apprenticeship system, that will make a real difference to young people, to businesses and, in the long term, to the economy as a whole.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and to hear his Irish accent. The Celtic fringe is present in force today in this debate.
I begin with the good news that apprenticeship week is being celebrated in Wales with £40 million being given by the Labour-led Welsh Assembly for expanding apprenticeships. Has the Minister had the chance to read the statement by the Welsh Assembly Minister announcing a one-off payment of £500 to small and micro-businesses to overcome the barriers to employing apprentices? I hope that he will think about introducing something similar throughout the country.
The idea of apprentices always conjures up romantic images from the ’50s and ’60s of the draughtsman, the plumber and the electrician taking a five-year apprenticeship. As much as I welcome apprentices and apprenticeship week, I am concerned that a number of people believe that they are following an apprenticeship when they are doing nothing of the sort. It is not the regeneration of apprenticeships, but the rebadging of apprenticeships. I think of Morrisons as the largest employer of apprentices in this country. One in 10 apprentices work at Morrisons, but what are they apprenticed to do? What profession will they come out with? Is it a meat cutter, a green grocer or a fishmonger? I do not know, and I hope that we will look into that.
Apprenticeships that last only a matter of weeks or months devalue great apprenticeship schemes such as those at Pensord Press in Pontllanfraith in my constituency and in Jaguar Land Rover in the constituency of the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). The Richard report bears that out. He noted two things that I have seen myself: the quality and the quantity of apprenticeships. I was hoping to develop this point further, but I have only a minute. At the moment we have box-ticking, and many companies do not appreciate the worth of apprenticeships. I hope that the Minister will look at the example of Germany, where apprentices take an exam at the end of their apprenticeship, like a driving test. There is a qualification standard for each and every sector, so that employers know exactly what they are getting.
Unless we grasp the nettle now and unless we bring about real quality apprenticeships, we risk falling even further behind India and China, and that is the worst thing that we could do for our young people.
Not every young person wants to go to university, or indeed can afford to. From a young age, we should be promoting the range of options available post-school, but the Government have seen fit to scrap work experience at key stage 4 and career guidance. Insufficient apprenticeships are available for those who want one, particularly for 16 and 17-year-olds. Rotherham college of arts and technology faces a cut in its funding that means that it will lose 280 places for this age group, despite 14.7% of young people in Rotherham being unemployed—twice the national average.
In Rotherham, we are particularly short of apprenticeship places for engineering, even though we have the advance manufacturing park in the area. The main obstacle employers cite when looking to take on an apprentice aged under 21 is the perceived bureaucracy involved. However, this week, Tata Steel in Rotherham has announced 29 apprenticeships, and other organisations there are also proactively looking to increase the number of apprentices they support. I understand that some employers are nervous about the investment that they will need to make in a young person before seeing any return. However, my experience is that this initial investment pays off tenfold, as employers have a worker who understands their systems and is keen to demonstrate commitment.
I urge the Government to use public procurement to boost apprenticeship numbers. For a company bidding for a public sector contract worth more than £1 million, part of its contractual obligation should be to provide apprenticeships. This recommendation was supported by the cross-party Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, but to date has not been acted on. I mentioned the lack of placements for engineering apprentices in Rotherham. If the Government adopted this policy in public procurement, High Speed 2, which will come through Rotherham, would create 33,000 new apprenticeships throughout the country, immediately making obsolete the problem of the lack of engineering places.
For me, the only way out of a recession is to work our way out. I urge the Government to support apprenticeships more fully to enable our young people to do that. Because of that, I support the motion.
We have two tasks to fulfil today and I believe that we have fulfilled them. The first, arguably the most important, was to celebrate national apprenticeship week and apprentices. We have had speeches from Members on both sides of the House doing exactly that. From the Opposition Benches we had strong speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon), for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie), and for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). They spoke of their constituency experiences and praised those involved in delivering apprenticeships, whether SMEs, large employers, training agencies, and colleges.
Further education colleges do not get the attention and praise they deserve in this House. They are central to the delivery of the skills agenda in respect of apprenticeships. Apprenticeships deliver £3.4 billion of value to the economy, so they are not only good for the people undertaking them; they are also good for the wider economy. We have given them the praise that they deserve today, and I hope people will pay attention to the fact that there is cross-party consensus on the value of apprenticeships.
Our second task, however, is to draw attention to what more needs to be done and to what we can do better—and there is a great deal that we can do better. The BIS Select Committee Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), mapped out the Committee’s important recommendations and drew attention to the core tasks we all face in raising the status of apprenticeships: the task of acquiring parity of esteem for people going through the apprenticeship pathway; and the importance of increasing capacity and the role procurement can play in that. Some Members may remember the Monty Python sketch involving a summary of Proust. My hon. Friend managed to summarise his Select Committee’s recommendations even more quickly, as I think Monty Python allowed a little longer than six minutes.
Opposition Members have critiqued the Government in a variety of ways, including by drawing attention to the worrying fall in the number of places for young people, especially those aged between 16 and 18. We have talked about the growth in apprenticeship numbers—there has been significant growth, which started well before 2010—but they include places that were rebadged, such as adult training schemes originally provided under Train to Gain. The abolition of Train to Gain may have led to the loss of as many as half a million training places, and included in the quarter of a million increase in the number of apprenticeships are a substantial number of adult apprenticeships that would previously have been classified as adult training. Adult training is important and valuable, but it is not the same as apprenticeships, as the Richard report makes clear.
We have a long way to go to deliver the quality and range of apprenticeships, particularly for young people, that the Richard review recommended. The Association of Colleges says:
“Currently there are insufficient apprenticeships available for those who want one, particularly for 16 and 17 year olds. Despite incentive programmes such as the Youth Contract, employers remain reluctant to employ ‘untested’ young people, preferring those with more experience.”
The National Apprenticeship Service has also drawn attention to the fact that there are 10 applications for every apprenticeship, so the level of unmet need is clearly significant.
We also need to take a careful look at the balance of available apprenticeships across sectors. That point was made in powerful speeches by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and my hon. Friends the Members for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). Welcome though apprenticeships may be in the fields of office work and administration, health and public services and retail and commercial enterprises, they account for 71% of all 19 to 24-year-old apprenticeship growth. There has been a recent fall in the number of construction apprenticeships and relatively modest growth in areas such as engineering. We will need greater growth in those vital sectors if we are going to help young men as well as young women and address some of the crises in youth unemployment and unemployment among black and minority ethnic communities.
There are other anxieties as well. Why in 2011-12 did achievement rates fall across all groups for the first time? The Minister must address that. How effective is the new careers advice and guidance regime in ensuring that the apprenticeship pathway is seen as a valued option for young people? The Association of Colleges says:
“As a flagship Government policy, apprenticeships must be effectively promoted. The general lack of awareness and understanding of apprenticeships amongst young people and the wider public is a serious issue.”
Several speakers on both sides of the House have mentioned the survey that found that just 7% of young people are able to name apprenticeships as a post-GCSE option. The Government must urgently address that.
Labour has a clear vision for vocational education and apprenticeships. We will introduce a technical baccalaureate at 18—a gold standard in vocational education, held in high esteem, that will command the confidence of business, parents and pupils. Through the measures outlined today we will confront head on the shortage of high-quality apprenticeships for young people. We will put business in the driving seat on skills and apprenticeships. Our taskforce, led by Professor Chris Husbands, will bring forward recommendations on apprenticeships and skills for 14 to 19-year-olds, a joined-up approach to the education and skills challenges we face as a country.
We need a stronger voice for business in delivering the skills agenda we need to compete in the global race. We need a system that is more responsive to the needs of local economies and that will drive forward the generation of new opportunities. Government procurement is one means to that end. We are confident that the procurement measures set out in our motion will do exactly what we expect them to do and will not fall foul of European rules or others.
We are looking at how to improve the quality of advice given to young people, following the shake-up of careers advice and guidance, which was heavily criticised by, among others, the Education Committee. We want to review the impact of the removal of the work experience requirement at key stage 4, which a number of Members have mentioned today. I want schools and colleges to provide apprenticeship taster days to teenagers. If pupils can take a few days out of the classroom to visit universities, I do not see why the same principle should not apply to apprenticeships. Young people from age 14 should be able to get the opportunity to visit companies that offer apprenticeships to see what is involved in the programme and understand the training and career opportunities available. That is Labour’s plan for apprenticeships, putting them at the heart of a new vision for vocational education in this country.
In this national apprenticeship week we want to see a commitment to using the powers of Government to boost apprenticeship numbers and, especially, to meet the needs of a young generation facing almost unprecedented challenges in the workplace. It is simply not good enough that just 7% of young people see apprenticeships as a post-GCSE alternative. It is not good enough that two thirds of large companies do not provide an apprenticeship programme. It is not good enough that the message on the ease of delivery of apprenticeships has not got through to nine out of 10 small and medium-sized employers. We must do better at making sure that the barriers in their way are removed.
It is simply not good enough to ignore the potential of the procurement process as an effective lever for opening up opportunities, particularly for young people, and particularly in the skills and trades that most of us recognise as being at the heart of an apprenticeship programme and that will enable us to compete in the modern economy with the developed countries that, in many cases, are providing apprenticeships at three, four or five times the rate available in this country. That is why the Opposition have put forward a motion that praises the culture of apprenticeships, wants to see more of them provided and wants to see equality of status for them. That is why I urge Members to support the motion.
It is a great pleasure to be here, in national apprenticeship week, celebrating apprenticeships. We have had an extremely positive debate, with almost all contributions being positive and huge support on both sides of the House for apprenticeships. Success has many fathers. We heard first the claim that apprenticeships really got going in 1997. I had planned to say that they were in fact first mentioned in Chaucer 651 years ago, but then we heard the even greater claim from the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) that they are as old as human beings.
It has been a great national apprenticeship week so far. At 5.30 this morning I was learning from Morrisons apprentices how to fillet fish, and what brilliant apprentices they are. It is quite a skill they have with knives—I certainly cannot match it. I have only one note of mild disappointment, because the speech we just heard from the Opposition Front Bench was rather disappointing. I thought that the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) sounded rather like the sultan of scepticism or the Eeyore of apprenticeships, only seeing the worst and determined to dampen, downgrade and darken the mood. But we will not darken the mood, Mr Deputy Speaker, because apprenticeships are a cause to celebrate, and celebrate them we will.
Let me turn to the many issues raised by Members across the Chamber. First, careers advice is vital, as the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), said, as did the right hon. Member for Tottenham, in a powerful speech, and my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) and the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie). We have introduced a new statutory duty on schools that came into force in September, and Ofsted has said that it is making it a priority to consider that. The new destination data that were brought in this summer not only highlight, as they have in the past, the proportion of pupils going to university but, for the first time, publish for all schools the proportion going into apprenticeships. That is an important step, as Members in all parts of the House will recognise. We look forward to Ofsted’s report in the summer on the implementation of the duty to provide independent and impartial careers advice.
The second issue, which was raised by many Members, is the importance of the link between youth unemployment and apprenticeships. It is a scandal that youth unemployment is as high as it is, falling though it may be, when there are skills shortages in key parts of our economy such as engineering and computing. This shows that the linkage between the education system and the skills system, on the one hand, and employers, on the other, has not been strong enough. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) so eloquently explained, increasing that employer focus is a vital part of the reforms that we are pursuing. Another part of those reforms is the introduction of traineeships so that as apprenticeships become more rigorous and more high-quality, there is a programme of support, alongside the DWP programmes, to make sure that people get the skills they need, including in English, maths and work preparation, to get a good job and to hold down a job. My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson), and the hon. Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) and for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) also talked about the link between youth unemployment and apprenticeships. Several Members mentioned their local jobs clubs, and I wish them well. I am having a jobs club in Newmarket on Friday and look forward to it very much.
The third issue is how much apprenticeships are valued. The Chair of the Select Committee mentioned the recently published statistic that, on average, a higher apprenticeship increases lifetime earnings by £150,000. Let that figure go out there and let us all present and explain it, because it shows the value of apprenticeships.
I absolutely recognise that there have been increases in the number of apprenticeships over the past two and half years in level 2 and level 3, and we are going to introduce levels 4, 5 and 6. In every age group there have been increases in the number of apprenticeships, and we should celebrate that.
I cannot, I am afraid; I have virtually no time left.
The hon. Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), for Bradford East (Mr Ward), for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) and for Copeland (Mr Reed) talked about the value of apprenticeships. In particular, the hon. Member for Copeland spoke powerfully about how apprenticeships now reflect the modern economy and are spreading into relatively new areas of the economy. All this fits the argument made by the Prime Minister yesterday that there should be a new norm in our country whereby school leavers go to university or into an apprenticeship so that we have a high-skilled economy and a high-skilled work force, not only so that every individual can reach their potential—their personal best—but so that our economy can compete in the global race. I am glad to see cross-party consensus on the importance of the global race.
The hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) mentioned many things; I was intrigued by her speech. I want to pick out her mention of the world skills competition, which is a brilliant, fascinating and exciting competition that everybody should watch; certainly, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.
Members have mentioned the need to increase the number of apprenticeships and I can announce that, in addition to the three apprentices in my private offices, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will advertise tomorrow for three further apprentices in our communications department. The numbers are going up and up.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) and the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), have said, while we and many local authorities are broadly supportive of and, indeed, leading on procurement apprenticeships, such as those with Crossrail, I am concerned that the motion is defective, because it appears to call on the Government to exceed their legal powers. Given my assurances, I hope that the Opposition will not push for a vote.
The motion states that the Government should use
“the billions of pounds committed to public procurement”,
but our interpretation is that that does not automatically mean procurement in local government, although we believe that the Government have an important role to play in promoting that. I do not understand why the Minister thinks that the motion is defective.
The phrase “public procurement” could easily be interpreted as including procurement in local government, national Government and agencies. The motion was tabled only late last night and it would not be advisable for the House of Commons to vote for something that might not be legal. I am afraid that we must resist the motion, but I hope that, given our reassurances, we can all agree on the need for procurement where possible and for it to represent good value for money. I hope there will not be a vote.
Finally, many Members, including the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), mentioned the importance of increased quality and employer focus. Members discussed the cross-party desire for parity of esteem among vocational routes, apprenticeships and universities. It is my passionate belief that parity of esteem will come from parity of quality. We need to increase quality throughout the apprenticeship system so that all apprentices can be as good as the very best at MBDA, Morrisons and Rolls-Royce, which have been mentioned by many Members.
We have taken steps to increase quality: we have insisted that people need to continue with English and maths if they do not have a C grade at GCSE, and have said that there needs to be a minimum of a year in almost all circumstances and a job as part of an apprenticeship. The removal of programme-led apprenticeships has taken out 18,000 apprenticeship places, which is a far higher number than that for the decrease in apprenticeships for 16 to 19-year-olds over the past year. Under the previous Government some apprenticeships did not involve a job, so apprentices were training with no prospect of a job, and astonishingly, some apprenticeships involved jobs without training. At their heart, apprenticeships are about earning and learning at the same time. Increasing quality is vital and I will not apologise for that.
We will respond to the Richard review and are in favour of rigorous apprenticeships that are responsive to employers’ needs. We want to ensure a new norm that gives everyone a good opportunity to reach their potential. We should not use a target to push people into university when it may be best for them to go into an apprenticeship. Instead, let us provide the best possible opportunities for young people, through university and apprenticeships, and a ladder of progression from level 2 to levels 3, 4 and beyond to new areas of the economy, including legal services and accountancy, as well as the more traditional areas of engineering and construction. In that way, we can ensure that there is the potential for everybody to succeed.