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Volume 573: debated on Monday 6 January 2014

There were 868,700 people undertaking an apprenticeship last year—more than ever before. We have already taken steps to increase standards and remove low-quality provision, and we will take further such steps.

I am pleased to hear that our Government are providing more support to young people who do not wish to pursue an academic course at university. Does the Minister agree that we need more participation in the apprenticeship scheme by small and medium-sized enterprises such as PK Automotive in Lincoln, which has joined larger firms such as Siemens in my constituency, and worked with local institutions such as Lincoln college and LAGAT, to help to deliver real opportunities for young people?

Yes, I do. I am delighted to say that 2,200 people in Lincoln are participating in apprenticeships. As is the case in many other places throughout the country, that is a record number. Of course apprenticeships are valuable in companies large and small. In fact, a majority of apprenticeships are in small businesses, but we need to ensure that the benefits of apprenticeships are communicated to all employers.

Sara Underwood, a higher apprentice with Rolls-Royce at Barnoldswick in my constituency, was recently awarded the Mary George memorial prize as part of the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s young woman engineer of the year awards. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Sara on her achievement and Rolls-Royce on its exceptional apprenticeship scheme?

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in recognising the work that Sara has done not only to win the prize that she so thoroughly deserves, but as a true ambassador for apprenticeships as she goes around explaining the benefits of apprenticeships to young people, employers and the wider economy.

A recent survey by The Times Educational Supplement showed that three quarters of young people did not receive information about apprenticeships in their careers lesson, so does the Minister still stand by the words of the Secretary of State to the Education Committee in December that the Government have no plans to address and amend careers guidance?

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said to that Select Committee, we will shortly publish new guidance on careers education. As we have set out many times, a far more important—if not the most important—thing for young people’s inspiration and motivation is people who themselves are successful in their careers, so that is what our careers advice policy focuses on.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his replies to these questions, but how does he propose to deal with the real dearth of engineering apprenticeships—female ones—when frankly there will not be enough role models to go around? We need good careers advice in classrooms, but it needs to be targeted so that we get young women, especially, into engineering and STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects.

Of course role models can be of either gender, and I am sure that many men can think of women who would be role models for themselves. Under this Government, the number and proportion of applications for apprenticeships in engineering are up, and the number of applications to study engineering at university is up. There is much more to do, but we are moving in the right direction.

Does my hon. Friend agree that university technical colleges will make a huge difference to apprenticeships? May we have a commitment from the Government that we will have one in every town after the next election?

I am a great enthusiast for UTCs, not least because they prepare people to go into not only apprenticeships, but an academic career. They can open up opportunities for young people, and we work hard in the Department for Education to ensure that as many people as possible get those opportunities.

Does the Minister believe that schools are providing adequate careers guidance about the availability of apprenticeships in the light of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments:

“It is worrying that the new arrangements are failing to provide good guidance or to promote vocational training options and apprenticeships”?

I am clear that the strength of guidance, inspiration and motivation needs to increase, and that the best place to get that motivation is from people who are in careers. We have inspirational apprentices such as Sara Underwood, who was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), who explain the benefits of apprenticeships. I explain the benefits of apprenticeships, and it should be incumbent on all of us in the House to explain that opportunities are available to allow people to prosper.