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Volume 587: debated on Monday 27 October 2014

9. What plans she has to increase the number of apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds; and if she will make a statement. (905636)

We are providing an additional £170 million to fund over 100,000 incentive payments of £1,500 to employers who take on a young person aged 16 to 24.

The official statistics show a big fall in the number of apprenticeship starts for under-19s, from over 130,000 in 2010-11 to 95,000 last year. Why has there been that fall? Why has it been allowed to happen, and how optimistic is the Minister that the measures he has just announced will turn around that very disappointing state of affairs?

I am always optimistic, but it is easier to be optimistic when the desired result has already happened. Provisional data for 2013-14 indicate a slight increase in apprenticeships for under-19s and for 19 to 24-year-olds. We are therefore hopeful that that improvement will continue. However, there is a serious point here, which is what employers think about offering apprenticeships to people who may be as young as 16 and perhaps do not have all the emotional maturity and the employability skills that employers expect in an apprenticeship that will last at least a year and be quite demanding. That is exactly why we have created traineeships as a stepping stone to apprenticeships. It may well be in the future that for many 16-year-olds the right answer is to do a traineeship first for six months and then to move on to an apprenticeship, rather than to go straight into an apprenticeship.

Unemployment is falling fast. In my constituency there is now significantly less than 1% unemployment. Employers will have to recognise that it is in their own interest to take on apprentices, because if they do not embrace apprenticeships, they will not be able to find people with the skills they need in a few years because such people simply will not be there.

That is a powerful message, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for delivering it. It is a message that all of us in the House, whatever party we represent, should be taking to every business and employer in our constituencies. If they are not offering apprenticeships now, why not? What is holding them back? We want them to come forward and offer apprenticeships and traineeships for our young people.