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Traineeships Programme

Volume 612: debated on Tuesday 28 June 2016

I am surprised that you have shortened my name today, Mr Speaker.

The traineeship programme grew by more than 85% in 2014-15. Our first year evaluation showed positive progression rates with 50% of trainees moving on to apprenticeships and work, and a further 17% going on to further learning.

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps the world should know that his full name is Mr Nicholas Edward Coleridge Boles.

Well played, Mr Speaker.

There is still a perception, I am afraid, that traineeships and apprenticeships are somehow second class compared with other career routes. As a former apprentice, I know just how rewarding they can be. This summer, I will be running a skilled trades summer school in my constituency to help young people to realise the advantages of electrical and mechanical engineering, the motor trades and joinery, for instance. Will the Minister meet me and members of Oldham College to talk about how we can raise the profile of those very important trades?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his fantastic initiative, which is particularly powerful given his history as an apprentice—he can preach the reality of it. I have to confess to him that I have never been to Oldham, so I would love to come for the first time to join him.

Traineeships ought to be a route to good-quality apprenticeships, but we know that there remains a substantial gender pay gap for apprentices of more than £1 an hour. Will the Minister suggest how traineeships can be developed to encourage girls and young women into career routes that pay good salaries and have good prospects?

The hon. Lady identifies an important challenge that has been long in existence, and we have a long way to go to correct it. The key thing is to try to persuade young women to go for the kinds of jobs that are open to them and would pay them much better rates: STEM-related careers and engineering-related jobs. Traineeships are often a good way for people to get a taste for a profession but, equally, we need to attack the problem much earlier—at primary school—to shape the attitudes of young girls and make them understand that, like the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), they have a career in technology open to them.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of CIPD, has said that if the Government are serious about improving the quality of apprenticeships and skills, as well as the quantity, they need completely to overhaul the apprenticeship levy. Is he right?

He is right, to the extent that we want massively to improve the quality of apprenticeships, as well as the quantity, and they are not in conflict. But of course, if we are going to do both, we have to have more money to spend. That is why the apprenticeship levy is absolutely critical. It will enable us to take Government spending on apprenticeship training from £1.5 billion a year at the moment to £2.5 billion a year in England by the end of this Parliament, which is essential if we are to get the quality as well as the numbers up.

The Minister has tried to construct a reassurance on traineeships, but the facts that have been dragged from the Government tell a different story. Freedom of information figures published in FE Week show that just 9% of 19 to 24-year-olds and just one in five of all 16 to 24-year-olds went from traineeships to apprenticeships. The Labour party has consistently supported traineeships for getting many more young people into quality apprenticeships, so why have the Government wasted three years, failing properly to promote, explain or target them? Ten days ago, the Minister warned about Brexit uncertainties threatening apprenticeship growth and the levy, so will he now spell out new initiatives to tackle the necessary increase in traineeships, including support to further education colleges and providers who are desperate to press ahead with them; or else risk failing the young generation?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being one of the few people to resist the temptation to resign in the past 48 hours. He and the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), will go down in the history books as brave champions of modern opposition.

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is an avid reader of FE Week; it is an interesting publication. He will know that traineeships are not only about pre-apprenticeship programmes. The whole point of traineeships is to take people into apprenticeships, jobs or further training—whatever is best for them—and he would seek to narrow this programme, the great strength of which is its versatility.