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Apprenticeships

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 15 December 2015

We have given employers control over apprenticeship standards and require all apprenticeships to last at least 12 months and involve substantial off-the-job training. We will be setting up an independent, employer-led institute for apprenticeships to approve standards and assure quality in future.

I thank the Minister for that response, and I welcome the fact that there have been nearly 1,100 apprenticeship starts in north Warwickshire and Bedworth over the last 12 months. However, I know that local businesses are concerned that the focus might be on quantity rather than quality. What assurances can the Minister give to my constituents, especially those in highly skilled engineering, that that will not be the case?

There is, in fact, no innate tension between quantity and quality. We want better quality, because that will mean more employers wanting to offer apprenticeships, such as BMW in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I strongly welcome the very high-quality apprenticeships that it is creating.

As the Minister will know, Ofsted has said that apprenticeships are not good enough at present, and many people in industry believe that the only way to hit the 3 million target is to water down quality further. What reassurance can the Minister provide?

I welcome that question, because while it is true that Ofsted has highlighted some bad practice, that bad practice has been familiar to us all for a long time, and has inspired the reforms that we are introducing. All apprenticeship frameworks will be replaced by standards developed by employers. Training must last for more than 12 months, and at least 20% of it must be off-the-job training. We will also ensure that quality improves at all levels. I disagree slightly with the chief inspector’s implication that a level 2 apprenticeship is somehow not of high quality. Apprenticeships should be of high quality at all levels, and the existing level 2 apprenticeships increase people’s incomes by an average of 11% three to five years later.

23. There were 970 new starts in my constituency last year, many of them in engineering and technology. That was an increase of 24% on the number of starts in the previous year. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the new apprentices, and does he agree that those figures show that the Government are committed to high-quality apprenticeship places, such as those that are provided at Prospects college of advanced technology?

(902722)

That was a stunning achievement in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I know that it was largely due to PROCAT, which is an excellent institution, and one of the first institutions to become a college for a long time. My visit to PROCAT was my first visit to a college in my current job, and if my hon. Friend invites me to return, I shall be happy to do so.

I commend the Minister for establishing an institute for apprenticeships which will put employers at its heart, but may I suggest that he should consult trade unions and find ways of harnessing their insight and experience in this valuable area?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I greatly value the work that trade unions do in encouraging employees to take up training opportunities, which is why we continue to fund the important work of Unionlearn. I will certainly reflect on his suggestion, and will make some announcements shortly.

Snap-on is a major United States manufacturer, developer and marketer of tools, and its UK headquarters are in Kettering. Given that it is seeking to increase its investment in apprenticeships throughout the country, will my hon. Friend accept an invitation to open its new £2 million facility in Kettering on 15 February?

I am glad to say that Kettering is very close to my own constituency. If the Whips allow me, I will be there.